February 23, 2010
Bitter-sweet: A third of the world's cocoa harvest last year was bought for speculation purposes
Now that the chocolate powder has settled on last month's Internationale Süßwarenmesse (ISM), the world's largest confectionery trade fair in Cologne, it would seem that Germany's sweets and biscuit makers have discovered a new bête noire. Apparently, a considerable number of them went in for a round of banker-bashing at this year's venue accusing Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch & Co. of irresponsible speculation regarding raw materials prices. In particular, cocoa prices at all-time highs of £2,300 ($3,550; €2,620) per tonne have got everyone hot under the collar. Jürgen B. Steinemann, CEO at cocoa and chocolate products maker Barry Callebaut, cites weekly reports filed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission that a third of the world's 3.5 million tonne cocoa harvest last year was bought by hedge funds, institutional investors and pension funds rather than by food processors.
February 22, 2010
Chronodrive: Auchan customers can drive to a packing station to collect their online orders
"Chronodrive est magnifique!" This fulsome praise in a recent e-mail from a great-aunt in Belgium was intriguing. Tante Françine, despite being in her mid-80s, is impressively tech-savvy and orders more on the internet than most young people. She then drives in her automatic car over the border into France to collect her shopping at the Chronodrive packing station. The click & drive activities of the Auchan subsidiary as well as those of its major local rivals are impressive. French retailers have clearly stolen a march on their German rivals. We therefore asked Germany's major retailers whether they plan to develop online drive-in systems. Their response, or lack of it, was significant.
February 19, 2010
Vittorio Radice: "Retailers need footfall"
An interview with La Rinascente CEO Vittorio Radice is a bit like a trip down the memory lane of UK retailing. Radice was the creative Italian who turned Habitat (later acquired by Ikea) and Selfridges around in the 1990s. He then had a brief stint on the board of Marks & Spencer in 2003. During his seven years at London-based Selfridges, Radice transformed what had become a rather dowdy department store operator into a cool, swinging operation. In order to do so, he didn't flinch from introducing loud pop music, body-piercing salons, or extravagant annual promotions, including mass photo shoots with naked customers.
February 19, 2010
Naughty: Rewe's new ad campaign for own label range "ja!"
It wasn't likely to have been a Valentine's Day card coming from Aldi Süd. But insiders at Rewe Group insist that the warning letter they have received from Germany's largest discounter was politely written. Perhaps Aldi could have lived with and quietly smiled at Rewe's new ad campaign slogan "Niemand ist billiger" (No one is cheaper) for its 400-line, price-entry own label range "ja!". However, the sub-text was asking for trouble with an 800-pound gorilla: "Daily comparison of ja!'s lowest prices with German discounters such as Aldi. If the price of any comparable product is found to be lower, the ja! price will be adjusted downwards to match this." Clearly, Rewe's controversial marketing initiative reflects the perceived need of the multi-channel, full-assortment retailer to improve its price image with consumers, especially now that arch-rival Edeka is pushing its own price-fighter range.
February 12, 2010
Pause for breath: Lidl is slowing the pace of its frantic expansion
After years of double-digit growth, Lidl's expansion seems to be flagging. Revenues at the hard discount subsidiary of secretive Schwarz Group stagnated in Germany during 2009. Also, for the first time in many years, Lidl's substantial foreign empire is unlikely to contribute further rapid growth. According to market research company GfK, Lidl posted revenues of around €14bn on its home market – a mere 0.2 per cent increase despite 80 new stores. Lidl is experiencing a growing cannibalisation effect on its home market where new outlets increasingly rob sales from existing stores. Profits have also come under pressure as archrival Aldi lowers prices, but net margins are still estimated at 2.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Netto Marken-Discount, the discount subsidiary of Germany's largest food retailer Edeka, has been transformed into a national rival through its recent merger with Tengelmann soft discount subsidiary Plus.
February 7, 2010
A successful run: Aldi Süd's net margin of 4.9 per cent beats all major German rivals
Despite a decline in priced-adjusted revenues at Aldi Nord (3 to 4 per cent) and Aldi Süd (1 to 2 per cent), both sister companies managed to keep earnings stable in 2009. This is particularly impressive as the north and south divisions of Germany's leading hard discounter lowered prices on more than 250 lines within their limited assortments last year. Following solid gains in 2008, Essen-based Aldi Nord posted a 5.5 per cent rise in revenues to €10.3bn, and Mülheim-based Aldi Süd grew 5.2 per cent to €12.5bn. But just look at those lovely net margins! Aldi Nord (3.2 per cent) and Aldi Süd (4.9 per cent) continue to lead the local trade. Doubtless much to Aldi's annoyance, Lebensmittel Zeitung ploughs through the many separate figures for its various companies each year and publishes a results estimate. This tour de force is necessary because the secretive privately-owned group circumvents German balance sheet law by dividing its vast empire into small regional companies with only a limited statutory obligation to disclose results. This is quite legal, but provides a happy hunting-ground for trade journalists
February 2, 2010
Tomás Osborne: "I am open to everything"
Rarely are journalists paid for having pleasure. A visit to Grupo Osborne in the sun-drenched Andalusian region of Jerez from the depths of a German winter surely rates as such. Nestled snugly in Spain's "sherry triangle" is the town of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) from where Columbus set out on what also proved to be quite an interesting business trip. Since 1772 this has also been the home of the Osborne family, purveyors of sherry & wine, brandy & spirits, ham, water and juices. As soon as you arrive at Jerez airport, you know this is Osborne country. Imposing metal signs of "El Toro de Osborne" (the Osborne bull) loom over roundabouts and roadsides or from hill tops. Grupo Osborne (2008/09 net revenues: €270m) is, after all, a local hero. With orange trees flowering under an egg shell blue sky, the locals were unlikely to be grim. There were smiles from rough-looking taxi drivers to hotel receptionists, all astonished to meet a visitor in December. At Osborne headquarters, laid out in classic hacienda style, guests are greeted cordially by family Chairman, Conde Tomás Osborne Gamero-Cívico.
January 22, 2010
Laurie McIlwee: "Aldi and Lidl were our greatest threat"
Laurie McIlwee, Group Finance Director at UK grocer Tesco since February 2009, is a rare breed among CFOs. This down-to-earth Northerner can actually discuss financial strategy without talking Persian. Despite his unfazed attitude, 2009 must have been something of a baptism of fire for McIlwee (47), the youngest member on the Tesco board. After all, it was nearly the year of global financial meltdown and the worst recession on many national markets, including Tesco's core UK one, since 1945. Admittedly, the former distribution director and ex-PepsiCo man is steering a pretty big ship to ride out the heavy seas. As per the business year to the end of February 2009, Tesco posted group sales, including VAT, of £59.4bn. This makes the British market leader the world's third-largest food retailer. With a pre-tax margin of 5.5 per cent, Tesco is also one of the most profitable mass market retailers. Probably, Tesco today is the most exciting kid on the block.
January 15, 2010
Simonetta Carbonaro: "Less, please, but of the best"
It is perhaps unusual for an interviewee to kiss the photographer. This is easily explained, however, when one remembers that Professor Simonetta Carbonaro is not only a leading academic, but also a warm-hearted Italian. Carbonaro probably knows more about consumers and their psychology than anyone on this planet. It is this insight which leads her to believe that most retailers, brand manufacturers and marketers are barking up the wrong tree. And when she offers a direct challenge to trade group think her views carry weight. The researcher and co-founder of the Karlsruhe-based marketing and design consultancy REAL_ISE is a world-leading analyst of consumer behaviour and an expert in innovation management and strategic design. Among her many intellectual surprises, there was even some praise for much criticised US supertanker Walmart
January 8, 2010
Mecca for Slow Food lovers: 8,000 customers a day visit Eataly in Turin to buy, taste and learn about natural Italian food specialities
Visitors who admire the spacious piazzas and baroque facades of Turin's elegant city centre do not usually stray into its grey urban sprawl and commercial zone. Since January 2007, however, they have a very good reason to do so: Eataly. This shrine to good food was founded by local entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti. When the CEO arrives at his office every morning, he passes "Saturn", the entertainment electronics subsidiary of German Metro Group, and a "PAM" superstore on the other side of the road. He ignores them both for they remind him of two worlds he no longer wishes to be associated with. Farinetti sold his majority holding in the family consumer electronics (CE) business in 2002 for the modest sum of €500m, but says it wasn't for the money. Instead he is convinced that the whole segment has lost its creativity and is racing down the price-driven, low-margin, mass commodity route to nowhere very fast. Thus his new business venture, Eataly, can also be seen as a form of philosophical protest.