retail news in context, analysis with attitude

• The Chicago Tribune reports that “at the end of one of the most successful five-year streaks in its history, with the specter of a sales-sapping recession looming,” fast food giant McDonald’s … “is trying to give itself a second identity: coffee giant. Adding fancy coffees and other specialty drinks is a bold move intended to make McDonald's a beverage destination and a rival to Starbucks and other coffee chains. It's a key strategy aimed at luring more customers for snacks between meals.”

However, as the Tribune notes, “it also is one of McDonald's riskiest product launches ever,” since it takes the company’s franchisees outside their comfort zone and creates organizational and infrastructure stresses that they are not sure they can handle.

Still, the company perceives that the time is right – not just because it would like to give its sales a bit of a jolt, but because high-end coffee retailer Starbucks has been suffering a weak spell and is seen as vulnerable.

• In the UK, The Mail reports that Tesco, concerned about heightened competition in the e-commerce segment and a weakness in the economy, plans to attract new shoppers to its website by offering discounts equivalent to almost $20 (US) for all orders of about $100 (US) or more.

At the same time, Ocado.com, one of its major online competitors, has announced that it will match Tesco’s prices on some 100 products.

USA Today this morning reports that “a number of wines have been creeping past 14% alcohol and even into the 15- to-16 percent range, as opposed to the tamer 12- to 13-percent of years past. This is largely because vintners wait longer to pick their grapes. More mature fruit is thought to make tastier wine, but it also means sugar levels have a chance to rise, which comes with the side effect of pumping up the alcohol volume. Warmer harvests only increase the phenomenon.”

While some in the industry object to the higher alcohol content, supporters say that the so-called “big wines” tend to be bigger, bolder and chewier, lingering longer on the palate. Of course, this raises another issue – the influence of technology on winemaking. It seems that there are technological solutions that can create bigger wines without the higher alcohol content, but some object to the influence of such technologies in the vintner’s art.

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