retail news in context, analysis with attitude

…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reports that "U.S. shoppers who shopped at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday last weekend reported spending a record high total of an estimated $19.6 billion."

Small Business Saturday was created a decade ago by American Express as a day following Black Friday that would serve to highlight the importance of small, locally owned businesses.

Today, NFIB says, "the day has become a national tradition with seven in ten (70%) American adults surveyed by American Express and NFIB reporting being aware of the day. Shoppers this year are conscious and considering the impact small businesses have in their community. A vast majority of respondents who shopped on Small Business Saturday (96%) agree that shopping at small, independently-owned businesses supports their commitment to making purchases that have a positive social, economic and environmental impact … 97% of consumers who shopped on Small Business Saturday agree that small businesses are essential to their community and 95% reported the day makes them want to shop or eat at small, independently-owned businesses all year long, not just during the holiday season."

• The New York Times has a story about how a four-year-old decision by the British government to impose the equivalent of a six cent tax on the purchase of plastic bags - designed to encourage people to buy "bags for life" and reduce the amount of plastic going into landfills - hasn't worked out the way supporters hoped.

In fact, the story says, "bags for life" have turned into "bags for a week." This year, the Times writes, "the 10 companies representing most of Britain’s grocery retail market have sold over 1.5 billion 'bags for life' … which amounts to 54 bags per household. That was on top of the 959 million 'bags for life' sold in the country’s main supermarkets last year."

The consumption of plastic, at least the plastic contained in bags, actually is increasing at a time when authorities hoped it would be decreasing.

All of which makes me think of the Winston Churchill line: "The English never draw a line without blurring it."

• The Wall Street Journal reports that "smaller loaves are on the rise as bread companies and grocery-store bakeries respond to new demands from shoppers. Some complain they can’t finish an entire loaf before it turns stale. Others prefer to buy half loaves more frequently so they can eat the freshest bread possible. The smaller loaves offer a permissible indulgence for people trying to cut back on calories, carbohydrates or gluten, bakeries say. They’re also better proportioned for people who live alone, a growing demographic that today accounts for nearly one-third of U.S. households."

The story makes the point that "adjusting loaf sizes is complicated and costly for giant players, whose operations often produce thousands of loaves per minute, he says. In addition to buying new pans, large-scale bread makers must calibrate dough dispensers and packaging capabilities." But I'd suggest that the winners will be the ones that adapt quickly and aggressively - the ones that hem and haw are not likely to be rewarded for their reticence. It is like Michael says in his column this morning … you either pay attention to and respond to demographic changes, or you lose relevance and resonance.

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Hostess Brands, manufacturer of Twinkies, has come to an agreement to acquire Voortman Cookies, maker of popular creme-filled wafers and sugar-free cookies, The cost of the deal: $320 million in cash.

According to the story, "Ontario, Canada-based Voortman’s products will help diversify Hostess’s lineup of products, which include classic sweet-baked goods like Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Zingers, company executives said. Its offerings have grown about 5% over the past three years on a compound basis, more than double the 1.8% growth rate for the broader cookie category, according to Hostess."

USA Today reports that McDonald's has decided to play chicken, entering the chicken sandwich war that was launched earlier this year between Chick-fil-A and Popeyes'.

The story says that "the fast food giant is testing two new chicken sandwiches – the Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich – in Houston and Knoxville that could be rolled out to restaurants nationwide."

Here's what we do know - McDonald's will have better fries. Unless, of course, something horrible occurs and there ends up being a French fry shortage. Not that such a thing could ever happen…

The Hill reports that the United States "may face a French fry shortage due to a poor potato crop caused by cold and wet weather this year … The potato crop forecast in the U.S. is at the lowest since 2010, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report."

Yikes. Time to start hoarding.
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