People who watch the Hallmark Channel sure do love gravy. And not just any gravy, but gravy "mix. They're a full 112 percent more likely to buy gravy mix than the average American, according to a new study, followed closely by purchases of mayonnaise, soda, tomato paste and finally, boxed prepared dinners. This gem of insightful data comes from a collaboration between two exclusive companies in the Tampa Bay region. On one side is the TV ratings tracker Nielsen, which has a monster-size and futuristic data center in Oldsmar that tracks viewing of nearly every TV show and commercial on the planet.
On the other side is Catalina Marketing in the Carillon area of Pinellas County, which has a similarly futuristic data center that is dialed in to nearly every grocery and convenience store in the country; it tracks every single item that passes a cash register. The company makes the instant coupon printers you see at stores such as Sweetbay. I've visited Catalina and watched an individual cashier at a selected store in the Midwest scan fresh chicken breast, cat food and so on. Being data nuts with huge clients in the grocery world, Nielsen and Catalina teamed up to crunch numbers on what people buy, and watch, to answer questions such as these: If you make ketchup, should you advertise on MTV or ESPN? Should the Disney Channel pursue advertisers such as Audi because perhaps some dads watch “Phineas and Ferb” with their kids? This is “Big Data,” a hugely popular trend wherein companies are trying to glean psycho-economic insights from the oceans of data they collect from credit cards, GPS, tweets, TV ratings, video game data, weather data, census information, voting records, Web surfing habits, movie ticket sales, real estate transactions, medical prescriptions and so on. A favorite example: Netflix sorted through its subscriber data and found a correlation between people who like director David Fincher, actor Kevin Spacey and the British political drama “House of Cards.” Presto, they commissioned a full American version, and it was a huge hit. Now Hallmark has the opportunity to do the same — just with gravy. Other retail, restaurant and trend news around town: Look for some big changes at one of South Tampa's busiest intersections. An investment group has purchased several parcels on the south side of Gandy Boulevard at Dale Mabry Highway (sold in June for $2.5 million) going east to the former Blockbuster video store. That would include at least three motels, including the Expressway Inn South that rents rooms at $49 a night. My real estate sources say Encore Real Estate is holding casting calls that would dramatically improve the street with brand-name restaurants, a nicer gas station/convenience store, and retail outlets. Officials with Encore politely offered a “no comment at this time,” which is real estate code for “Stay tuned!” Just my opinion, but “Hello, Wawa, you still have two more sites to target in 2013 to meet your goal.” And Chick-fil-A needs another site nearby. We visited Cigar City Brewing the other day to check in with entrepreneur/brewer Joey Redner, and we can sum up the facility in one word: busy. Production is expanding, again, at the Spruce Street site. Another work shift is being added so the lines can run six days a week. They Recently, the roof of the warehouse was cut open so a crane could hoist in several more two-story-tall kettles, and a centrifuge contraption has been added that cost more than a Lamborghini. Why? It boosts volume by letting brewers spin impurities out of production runs without having to waste precious brew. Still, a line of customers stretches out the tasting room door on Tuesdays when customers can bring in their growler mini-kegs for filling, and Cigar City recently apologized via Twitter and Facebook for a shortage of their signature Jai Alai brew. The company is making more than ever, but it's hard to keep up with demand. “My distributors would be happy if I took out a $10 million loan and built a giant new brewery,” Redner told me. But who wants to essentially work for the bank every day? The bulldozers are out and razing buildings around the Paragon Music Center near Hillsborough and Armenia avenues, but that doesn't mean the guitar, amp and concert-lighting store is shutting down. The opposite, actually. The store owners also owned several crumbling buildings nearby, including one that dates to the 1960s where they started, and they decided to go forward with removing them. Look for nice new landscaping, a larger sign and potentially a new building nearby for expansion. www.paragon-music.com Last February, the Army Navy Surplus Market in downtown Tampa started a going-out-of-business sale. The site at 1312 N. Tampa St. is now up for rent. The owners are looking for new uses for the 8,000-square-foot building, and they aren't averse to something transformational. (Hellooo, Paleo grocery store!) What will it cost you? Twenty dollars per square foot a year, which my real estate sources say is fair-if-optimistic for downtown. The listing is with the Dohring Group. Speaking of the Dohring Group, the namesake owner Josh Dohring is the force behind the new “eBoats,” electric boats that dock in front of the Convention Center and putter in an oh-so-civilized way around the inner harbor and up the Hillsborough River. You'll recognize them by their festive sunshades and passengers nibbling snacks and sipping beverages. The company will even cater your outing from the Columbia, Mise en Place or other places. They started with two boats for rent at about $75 an hour weekdays and $85 an hour weekends. Demand is rising, Dohring said, and they are adding a third boat. www.eBoatsTampa.com