Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: More good earnings news


KROGERCheck out the latest batch of encouraging earnings reports.

Sure, the stock markets don’t know where to go, unemployment is still very high and the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is gushing oil, but several consumer and retail companies delivered some good news in the form of strong quarterly results.

Kroger, the No 1 U.S. grocery store chain, seems to be withstanding the challenge to its business from Wal-Mart, where groceries account for half of sales, and reported solid quarterly results. That is all the more impressive  given that Wal-Mart has been shaving prices of many of its grocery items, just as Kroger’s pricing war with Safeway and Supervalu has begun to ease.

Ravenous consumption of peanut butter helped J.M. Smucker beat Wall Street’s expert forecasts, and higher hog and pork prices helped Smithfield Foods lower its loss.  Smithfield, by the way, wants to buy what stake in turkey processor Butterball it does not already own.

Home-goods retailer Pier 1 Imports  posted a surprise quarterly profit, enjoying the growing demand for home goods seen by larger rivals Williams-Sonoma and Bed Bath & Beyond in a sign of an improving economy.  Same-store sales, a key measure of retail health, grew 14.3 percent for the first quarter at Pier 1.

Check Out Line: Can new systems get Best Buy back on its game?


Check out the impending barrage of new video games. E3/

It is all about motion sensors and 3D as Nintendo, Microsoft and  Sony introduce new systems and devices to get more people  gaming.

Microsoft has a full-body motion-sensing system called Kinect. Nintendo has a new DS handheld device that can play games and show movies in 3D. Sony has the “Move,” which uses a wand like the Wii to simulate motion in games.

Diners say Olive Garden, Papa John’s are tops


papajohnsPapa John’s and Olive Garden got top marks in their respective restaurant categories in the University of Michigan’s 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index, while McDonald’s and Chili’s Grill & Bar were laggards.

Papa John’s took the lead in the limited-service category from Domino’s Pizza. Notably, this year’s win for Papa John’s came as Domino’s was getting a sales bump from its reformulated pizza recipe and crowing about how its new pies were beating rivals in taste tests. 

Check Out Line: Shrinkage is shrinking

AUSTRALIA-ECONOMY/SPENDINGCheck out how shoplifting rates are easing amid economic signs of life.

As severe economic pressures subside, U.S. retailers are noticing a slight decrease in merchandise losses, a.k.a. ”shrinkage,” according to the National Retail Federation.  Preliminary results of the group’s latest survey show that shrinkage decreased to 1.44 percent of retail sales in 2009, down from 1.51 percent in 2008.

According to the survey, retailers lost $33.5 billion through lost merchandise last year, down from $36.5 billion in 2008.

Check Out Line: Lifeline for American Apparel?


underwear1Check out the expected financial lifeline at American Apparel.

Sources expect the company, known for its colorful T-shirts, spandex leggings and other edgy, “Made-in-USA” retro appeal, and its main backer, British-based private equity firm Lion Capital, to reach an agreement that will prevent American Apparel from a looming debt covenant breach.

Last month, American Apparel lost nearly half its value after announcing it might trip a second-quarter covenant on June 30.

Check Out Line: World Cup lifts U.K. retailers


WORLDCUPCheck out how soccer fever is boosting John Lewis results.

Soccer/football mania is about to strike worldwide as the World Cup tournament gets underway in South Africa on Friday, and retailers are already reaping the benefits.

U.K. chain John Lewis reported yet another week of strong sales gains, helped by British fans shelling out their hard earned pounds on new flat screen televisions to watch every penalty kick, ever save with as clear a view as possible. Business was so good that the retailer reported sales rose 20.5 percent in the week ended June 5.

No more impersonal gift cards!


Home Depot Video Gift Card

Here’s some good news for those who avoided giving gift cards to friends and family because they found them too impersonal.

Top U.S. home improvement retailer Home Depot is launching a personalized video gift card ahead of Father’s Day.

Check Out Line: End of “cheap” labor in China?


foxconn1Check out workers in China angling for a bigger slice of the economic pie.

The labor unrest that began in China’s richer areas among foreign firms is now spreading to poorer, interior regions, as a new generation of workers seek a bigger portion of the nation’s growing wealth. What impact could that have on companies that have flocked over the decades to China, drawn by the low manufacturing and labor costs, as well as one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing economies?

Japanese automaker Honda and iPhone maker Foxconn International have dealt with high-profile strikes recently, and now a Taiwanese sports goods supplier and a Japanese sewing machine maker, both some distance from China’s wealthier regions around Hong Kong and Shanghai, have seen worker strikes. Resolutions of strikes at Honda and Foxxconn resulted in pay raises of 66 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Check Out Line: Cancer in a can?


Check out what’s sitting in that can of soup.

It’s bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical inside some plastics that can leach into water or food over time.

FOODS/CHEMCIALS-CANSIt has been linked in some studies of rats and mice to not only cancer but also obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

World Cup is no March Madness in sapping productivity


cup1It may be the World Cup, but when it comes to sapping productivity in the United States the global soccer tournament still has a thing or two to learn from March Madness and the National Football League.

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which often measures lost workplace productivity, said many U.S. fans will tune in for the quadrennial soccer tournament, which kicks off Friday in South Africa, but the event still trails the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, dubbed March Madness, and other events.