Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: Consumers spending again, just not drinking much


WINECheck out Constellation Brands’ lack of optimism.

Even though shoppers are returning in droves to malls to buy clothes and shoes, based on retailers’ boffo business in March, they are more sober -literally- in their spending on booze.

Constellation, which makes Robert Mondavi wine and owns the Svedka vodka brand, managed to squeeze out a bigger operating profit during its fourth quarter, despite a 3.5 percent drop in sales. It also owns half of a joint venture that imports beers like Corona, but said those sales fell 4 percent.

CEO Rob Sands apparently found little to toast about as he looks ahead. The company gave a disappointing profit forecast partly because of how dodgy the economic recovery is and how weak imported beer sales look to remain.

His caution appears to be well placed. A study by business advisory firm AlixPartners conducted in February and released on Friday found that about 89 percent of U.S. consumers (sample size of 1,000) plan on spending the same or less on booze in 2010.

Check Out Line: Easter bounce


Check out how high March retail sales bounced off last year’s weak results — and how April sales are expected to falter.

bunnyMarch same-store sales topped expectations for retailers ranging from teen-focused stores to discounters and department stores, helped by an early Easter, warmer weather and a recovering job market.

Olive Garden owner goes Green


olivegardenDarden Restaurants, owner of restaurant brands like the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse, has joined the Sustainability Consortium — a group of scientists, academics and industry leaders working to “green” consumer products. 

Darden, an 1,800-unit restaurant chain considered one of the industry’s best performers, has set a per-restaurant goal of reducing energy and water use by 15 percent by the year 2015. Long term, it aims to send zero waste to landfills.

Swapping your kids (clothing) online


Kids boxLuxury goods, shoes, bags and women’s clothing — they’re all represented in spades in the secondary market online.

But finding gently used clothing for kids — constantly-growing kids — is harder online, says James Reinhart, co-founder and chief executive of thredUP, a new clothing swap site designed just for busy moms.

Check Out Line: Thank you, March


Check out the latest retailer to benefit from the earlier Easter and a mild March.

family dollar storeFamily Dollar’s profit in the quarter that ended in February came in higher than analysts’ anticipated, as the discounter extended hours at its stores and sold more private label goods, which carry better margins.

Check Out Line: Duke wins, but there’s another bracket to fill


duke1Check out a different kind of tournament bracket still underway.

The Duke Blue Devils may have won yet another college basketball title Monday night, but consumers can still make their “Sweet 16″ picks in’s annual “Worst Company in America”  tournament, which runs through April 26.

In its fifth year, the website, owned by Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, lets consumers vote for their least favorite companies in matchups much like the NCAA tournament. Starting with 32 “teams,” the tournament pairs companies in votes in which the “winner” (think about it, in a worst company vote you want to lose) advances to face the next competitor.

Window shopping on the iPad, brought to you by eBay


eBay_iPad_1Shopping in front of a computer or small hand-held device got you down? EBay says it has the answer with its new iPad app, completely redesigned for ultimate browsing on Apple‘s hippest new tablet.

The app has already been downloaded “tens of thousands” of times  since the launch of the iPad on Saturday, said eBay’s vice president of mobile, Steven Yankovich. Currently, eBay is No 11 in the list of free iPad apps, he said.

Check Out Line: Rising sales at Walgreen


walgreen1Check out the higher sales at Walgreen stores open at least a year.

The largest U.S. drugstore chain said March sales at locations open at least a year rose 2.3 percent thanks to an earlier Easter holiday that drove demand for candy and other merchandise. Walgreen also said an extra weekday boosted sales of prescription medications.

March 2010 had an extra weekday and one less weekend than the previous year, and consumers tend to fill more prescriptions on weekdays.

from MediaFile:

And the first iPad goes to…

ipad launch...this guy in the hat. Sitting among Saturday strollers on New York's Fifth Ave. He's one of the 10 or so sitting in front of the Apple Store more than 18 hours before it will open for the first day of iPad sales. Oops, it looks like the ad on his hat is not the only surprise of the day. Sorry MediaFile readers, we only report the news. Sorry it wasn't the cute kid on the left.

Check out out live blog from the iPad launch today, which includes reports from Apple stores and a teardown of the tablet computer.

So much Starbucks coffee to taste (250,000 cups), so little time


mcmartinThink you drink a lot of java? Think again.
Starbucks’ stable of 20 coffee tasters collectively sample 250,000 cups of coffee every year, Scott McMartin, Starbucks’ director of global coffee advocacy told Reuters during a recent visit to the cafe chain’s Seattle headquarters.
Those tasters — who sample the brews sold at Starbucks and the company’s Seattle’s Best Coffee brand — are based in Seattle, Switzerland and in farmer support centers in Costa Rica and Rwanda.
scott2McMartin, who spoke as he slurped a variety of coffees, says great tasters have a mix of natural skill and commitment to craft. (Tasters make a slurping sound as they practically inhale the hot brew — a process that mixes the  liquid with air to help the tongue detect different flavors. Then they swish and spit.) 
Top tasters, like athletes and artists, know that practice makes perfect, said McMartin, who is also a sommelier. 
“It’s a repetitive thing. Your tongue is a muscle,” he said
Starbucks tasters make copious notes and occasionally check that they are in sync with regard to what they’re tasting in the cup. The latter process helps Starbucks make sure there are no “rogue tasters” in the mix, McMartin said.

(Reuters photos)