First European M&M's store opens in London

M&M's, one of the world's favourite non-Belgian chocolate brands, has opened its first European flagship store in the Leicester square area in the centre of London. If the new store, in the old Swiss Centre Building, is as successful as the three that already exist in the US, it might well become one of the major tourist attractions in London.

All colours and smells... and merchandise

The new store is 3250m² big and holds all the treats you would it expect to: The wall of Chocolate (M&M's in 22 different colours of which you can pick your own combination), the smell of chocolate, the typically American overload of merchandising (like M&M's clothing or jewellery)... and a tiny bit of “couleur locale”: the entrance is a Routemaster: the typical London double-decker bus.

While new in Europe, the M&M's stores have been a tremendous success in the US. Every year, over 10 million people visit the M&M's worlds in New York, Orlando or Las Vegas. The aim for London is 4 to 5 million visitors a year. To achieve this goal, the 170 employees will open the store from 10AM to midnight (or noon to 6 in the evening on Sundays).

M&M's is a worldwide brand that sells in over 100 different countries and is worth 2.75 billion dollar (1.9 billion euro), making it the largest candy brand in the world. It is owned by the New Jersey based Mars Retail Group, who will probably spread the concept to other European capital if the London store proves successful.

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Less packaging = lower costs + more goodwill

An overwhelming majority of the British would like to reduce their waste production to zero, says research service IGD. 70% is in favour of recycling all packaging, composting all organic waste and... actually eating all the food they bought.


Save up to 530 euro for a household, up to 2 billion for Wal-Mart (per year)

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), a programme through which authorities and companies work to use materials as efficiently as possible, calculated that every British home can save up to £480 (€530) – mainly in food that is now bought just to be thrown away later.

All of this would not mean that ecology would cost retailers dearly – on the contrary: they can make a lot of money with it. Wal-Mart for example was able to save over two billion euro as a result of using less packaging. Even for a company as huge as Wal-Mart, whose profit rose over 15 billion dollar last year, this is an enormous amount of money.

Wal-Mart logoOther American retailers have been following Wal-Mart's successful example: SuperValue has decided to decrease waste production by 90% in 40 of its supermarkets. This is of course a different scale than Wal-Mart's 4400, but it still helps. Moves like these also add to the good, green image of retailers – which in turn generates goodwill with potential future customers.


A strong incentive - and a stronger warning

Even though “green” is good, for retailers profitability is paramount – and also for consumers this is important: many Britons want to receive a compensation for the effort these measures will take, like a tax cut or a direct cash bonus. But even without this compensation, 62% of the British is “in theory” in favour of recycling – even more if the packages are picked up from each doorstep.

Moreover, 60% says they will use reusable bags in the future to go shopping, but even more important: 36% vow to boycott products with too much packaging. Suppliers will have to listen to this warning, and not only to reduce their own costs...



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Casino and Carrefour's Brazilian war escalates

Pao de Acucar logoFrench distribution giant Carrefour is considering a merger with Grupo Pão de Açúcar (CBD), the biggest player on the Brazilian distribution market. Stakes are high, because Brazil is the third largest food market in the world and the possible merger would result in the largest private employer of South-America, reaching a yearly turnover of 41 billion dollar (28 billion euro).


Casino saved Pão in 1997

Carrefour's rival Casino is not amused: they have invested over two billion euro in CBD since the start of their alliance in 1997, when the Brazilian group was in serious financial trouble and offered 37% of its shares and (more important) 50% of the votes in controlling holding Wilkes for its survival – a share that has been raised to 43% today. Casino has always hinted it wanted to have the absolute majority by 2012, and 74 year old millionaire and CBD owner Abilio Diniz now has taken a drastic step to prevent that from happening: starting talks with Casino's arch rival. The Brazilian blames Casino it never offered the group the opportunities for international expansion.

Today Casino CEO Jean-Charlers Naouri has issued a very sharp press release in which he called the secret talks illegal: Casino and CBD included in their contract that CBD can not hold negotiations regarding its future without Casino's involvement.


"It is not illegal to talk"

logo Casino“It is not illegal to talk”, says Carrefour. The second biggest distributor denies it received an offer of Abilio Diniz. The French chain did however receive one from Gama, financed by the Brazilian Development and Investment banks. The plan would be to merge Gama and CBD first, and afterwards include Carrefour's Brazilian activities as well.

Casino wants to play it hard and started an international legal procedure to call its Brazilian partner to order. It also asked the judge at Nanterre to seize 22 documents about CBD's future at Carrefour's headquarters as they think the real power between the Carrefour-CBD merger is Pierre Bouchut, general director at Casino until his dismissal 6 years ago and now CFO at Carrefour.


A plan of diversion or a case of logic?

Casino claims Carrefour uses the merger to turn the attention away from bad financial results in both France and Brazil, but Carrefour stresses economy factors: the operation could, according to them, lead to 700 million euro of extra synergies. At the same time, Carrefour points out that their board of directors has not yet studied the proposals and that CBD's – and therefore Casino's – approval is needed anyway.

A major supporter of the Carrefour-deal is Dilma Rousseff, the new Brazilian president. Her minister of economy, Fernando Pimentel, also declared that “the deal, if realised, is hugely important for Brazil”.

To be continued.

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Whole Food Market: managers should be less greedy

Ralph Sorenson, member of Whole Food Market's board of directors, has wiped the floor with greedy directors. “They can be found anywhere”, he said, “especially in American companies.” Except for Whole Foods Market, of course.


"A higher mission" leads Whole Food Market

The American health retailer has always taken care of 'awareness in capitalism': a higher mission that leads the company instead of profit maximisation. “To guarantee this, you need servient leadership, not an authoritarian , controlling style”.

That was Sorenson's message at The Consumer Goods Forum's Global Summit 2011, yesterday in Barcelona, where an army of big cheeses was listening – including American leaders like Wal-Mart, Coca Cola and Procter & Gamble.


Earning 500 times more than an average employee...

They are part of the group of American top managers that has made greed an art form, according to Sorenson: “In 1980, a top manager earned 42 times more than the average employee. This year, that number has decupled to over 400 times more!” In the US, it is even worse: almost up to 500 times more – says Sorensen. This is even not including the stock options, of which the top 5% of US companies give themselves 75% - leaving only one quarter for the 95% others.


WFM gives the right example: directors are limited to 7% of stock options and CEO Alan Mackey used to earn only 19 times more than an average employee. “Used to”, as he now abandoned his wages for a symbolic 1 dollar per year. “Our directors also do not have private jets – we always fly economy” says Sorenson; silently referring to the fact that he flew all the way from Denver to Barcelona in economy class.”


Respect makes unions unnecessary

Sorenson thinks that greedy managers have an unfit HR policy: “We respect all our employees: they can take responsibilities and educate each other. Our internal transparency is total: each salary is clear – and so are the results of each shop.

This egalitarian management and fair rewarding structure make unions unnecessary: “We have 60,000 employees and not a single one is member of a trade union. We respect and trust each other, so we do not need unions.”

Whether or not his testimony convinced other CEOs to work for 1 dollar per year, as president Alex Thomson said jokingly, is still not sure.


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Lars Olofsson takes command at Carrefour meeting

The crucial Carrefour stockholders' meeting in Paris promised to be turbulent and lived up to all expectations. While outside the trade unions protested, the meeting inside the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris tried to decide on quite a few important issues.

Spanish discounter Dia goes to Madrid stock exchange

Hard discount branch Dia's flotation had been expected to happen for some time. In this meeting, the stockholders finally agreed to start the process. Blue Capital, in which major shareholders Bernard Arnault (LVMH) and Colony Capital (private investment fund) cooperate, had been trying to force this move past the trade unions for a while.

President De Sèze leaves, Olofsson takes over his tasks

The second item came to more surprise, as Amaury de Sèze, president of the board of directors, announced the merger of his job and that of the general director into a new “Président Directeur Général”, which will be Lars Olofsson. Exit De Sèze, in a rather unexpected way...


It is true that Proxinvest, a group advising a number of shareholders, had asked De Sèze to step down because he had not been forceful enough to balance out Blue Capital. De Sèze's final act was to defend Blue Capital – holding 20% of Carrefour's votes, as having “a long term vision” and “just as eager to win this battle as everyone else”.

'Almighty' Olofsson: heavily trusted or easy scapegoat?

With his new competences, Olofsson (aged 59) is virtually almighty at Carrefour and he could force his restructuring plans through the hierarchy. Analysts are not completely certain about this move, pointing out that either “Olofsson has earned Blue Capital's trust” and “this is a move to express their trust in Olofsson, hoping the market will follow”, or that “Olofsson will be the only scapegoat if things go wrong”.


It is unsure whether or not Olofsson has really earned the major stockholder's trust, as the two have been fighting about selling out the real estate branch as well. To make sure things go their way, Blue Capital have placed one of their trusted people, Sébastien Bazin, at Olofsson's right hand as vice president of the board of directors.


Carrefour to cut 4.5 billion before 2014 

Nonetheless, Olofsson did seem more confident than ever, confirming his will to “carry out the strategic plan, even when in difficult circumstances.” He repeated he wants to cut 4.5 billion euro in three years and roll out the Carrefour Planet scheme even faster than expected.


He did however point out that the situation at Carrefour remains very difficult, with the many changes at the top at Carrefour France, the social tension, the delay of Carrefour Property's flotation and the crashing share value (-35% since September). Thus, he said that he “understands people are worried, but they need to see the long term view of the projects” and was sure that “the Carrefour Planet-plan is capable of really turning the tide for us”.


Carrefour stays in Brazil,  no news about Casino-partner

When asked about the controversial plans to invest in Brazilian supermarket giants Pão de Açucar (currently twinned with French rivals Casino), Olofsson did not respond clearly, but stated merely that “Carrefour will not leave Brazil”.


During the meeting, it was also announced that Société Générale had increased its participation in Carrefour to 7.9%, making it the second investor in the chain. Insiders however do not see this as a permanent move, but merely as a short term transaction with shares and derivatives that just happened to take them over the important 5% threshold – the reason why the move had to be announced publicly.


Shares, down 35% since September, now +1.7%

All the plans and moves that were expressed and concluded during this meeting, had quite a meagre short time result: Carrefour's shares went up 1.7%, less than the stock exchange's total of 2.04% and nowhere nearly enough to solve the 35% crash the shares went through since September.

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Aldi's alarm remains unheard

Every Aldi connoisseur knows that Aldi Nord is heading for a fall, but the German hard discounter still does not hear the alarm bells.


Two separate facts tell a miserable story

Last week in the news: “Aldi Nord tests a new bread baking oven” and “Aldi's chairman resigns”. Two separate facts with a nonetheless binding relation: on the verge of his retirement, the very conservative Hartmuth Wiesemann has finally decided to test something that has been successful at Aldi Sud for ages... and that is news. Sometimes one example says more than a thousand words ever could. Observers hoped that now that Wiesemann has decided to resign early, the time has come for innovation and change.

Unfortunately, it seems their hope will be in vain. Wiesemann's successor, 45 years old Marc Heussinger, has been personally appointed by the famously conservative founder Theo Albrecht. Heussinger is known as eloquent and amicable, but in his time as store manager he has also become a good friend of the Albrecht family – and adopted its very conservative views, according to the German Lebensmittel Zeitung (LZ).


Reading statistics their own way

“We will continue on this path, it is going well for us”, says Heussinger in LZ – showing that a change in course is not near. Aldi Nord's managers are experts in throwing dust in their own eyes: in a recent survey on hard discount, Planet Retail's research director Matthias Queck points out that Aldi Nord's top managers use a very selective view on key statistics to prove everyone – and especially themselves – that their course is the right one.

“Certain statistics are quite good indeed”, Queck says. “Take the average turnover per store or per stock keeping unit, especially if you consider that Aldi Nord's stores have shorter opening hours”. Queck demonstrates: a 11.2 billion euro turnover divided by 2525 stores and 1060 sku equals a turnover of 4185 euro per sku per store; five times as much as competitor Edeka's hard discounter Netto, which only reaches 820 euro per store per sku. Aldi Nord also scores significantly better than international competitors, like Turkey's BIM (1965 euro) or Carrefour's Dia in Spain (875 euro). Painful detail: Aldi Süd's score in this statistic is... 6650 euro per store per sku.


The risks of being an every day low price retailer

In Aldi Nord's defence: these statistics do not include the real estate and coffee branches of the struggling company. Other facts however are even more worrying: for example, unlike most of its competitors, Aldi Nord does not have much room for expansion. Its network in Germany is saturated and in most of the countries Aldi Nord is active in, the chain faces the same problems. Aldi Nord also takes hard hits when competitors sell A-brand products at Aldi prices during temporary promotions, as “Aldi is an every day low price retailer”, says Queck.

Aldi Nord has been showing a few small signs of recognising the problem lately (the new oven, a more modern architecture for some new stores), but in order to really solve the problem, chairman Heussinger will have to find the courage to sound the alarm first.

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Another profit warning upsets Carrefour shareholders' meeting

This week is going to be crucial for Carrefour, the world's second biggest supermarket chain. On Tuesday 21 June, its Ordinary and Extrordinary General Shareholders' Meeting will take place in the Carrefour du Louvre in Paris. The meeting is expected to be turbulent, as the Carrefour group issued a profit warning for the third time in less than a year.


35% drop in profits

While the problems in Belgium appear to be settled after a painful reorganisation, the French troubles are going from bad to worse. On the home market, representing 43% of Carrefour's turnover, the battle with Auchan and Leclerc have a big negative impact on both market share and profitability – sending the company's profits down 35% for the first half of 2011.

Carrefourtopman Lars OlofssonCEO Lars Olofsson, heading Carrefour France since James McCann's departure, has appointed 51 year old Noël Prioux – who has been working at Carrefour for 27 years – to steer the French branch clear of trouble with another recovery plan.


Short-lived managerial expansions

Olofsson worked for Nestlé until he was asked to lead Carrefour in 2009, and he has reorganised quite a bit since then: he bought Vincente Trius from Wal-Mart and James McCann from Tesco, reorganised the Belgian branch and introduced with great speed the restyling of Carrefour's hypermarkets to Planet stores.

The managerial acquisitions were not long-lasting: Trius has already left to lead Canadian supermarket chain Loblaw and McCann's departure at Carrefour was as sudden and unexpected as it was strange and unexplained. Olofsson had to take control of Carrefour France himself, endangering the planned divestiture of Carrefour Property.


Delay of real estate plans angers Louis Vuitton

The delay in bringing the real estate branch to the stock exchange has angered quite a few stockholders, who considered this operation as a perfect way to compensate the losses in value their participation had suffered over the last few years. Among the fiercest proponents of such a divestiture – and therefore among the most angered shareholders – are Bernard Arnault, chairman of luxury holding LVMH, and investment firm Colony Capital.
The stock markets were disappointed in the profit warning: Arnaud Joly of brokerage house Cheuvreux thought that “a split in the Carrefour holding now belongs to the possibilities, especially if the plan to modernise 500 European shops fails”. Last week, the Carrefour shares

had already dropped 10% when bank UBS labeled Carrefour's shares “one of the least attractive in the retail sector”.

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EHEC: who is responsible?

The EHEC crisis will have caused billions of euro in damage to farmers throughout Europe and to the EU itself, but what is there to learn from this hysteria?

Facts first. So far, 23 people have died in the whole of Europe – as many as die in traffic each five hours – and just 1% of those infected. While matters of public health are always important, this one is no cause for such a planet-wide hysteria. A hysteria which the German governments helped to spread by pointing not once, not twice, but at least three times to “the source of the infection”... only to be disproved a day later. So far, the real cause has not been found. But their communication blamed cucumbers, peppers, soya, ... up to a  potato restaurant in Lübeck, leaving their image damaged internationally.

The consequences of these decisions to communicate suppositions instead of waiting for proof has been deadly for vegetable producers around Europe. Not only because for several days, nobody in Europe dared to eat cucumbers or peppers (or in a later instance: soya), but especially since the miscommunication had Russia – the main importer of European vegetables – impose an immediate and total ban on every vegetable from the EU. Once again, Europe witnessed the destruction of mountains of vegetables, only this time, they were perfectly edible – just not saleable.

Spanish farmers estimate their loss at 200 million euro per week, not including the damage on their image. Dutch and Belgian farmers, probably along with most of European countries, will join the Spanish in their damage claims against the Germans.

Without any positive leads to the source of the contamination – although several scientists point out that EHEC bacteria usually lives in cattle, not on plants – it is difficult to say what retailers can do to limit damage in such cases. One thing that retailers should never do, is search cheaper ways to track the origin of vegetables. Metro Group for instance has announced the introduction of the GS1 Databar just last week, enabling it to follow the complete road from origin to store of vegetables and fruit, which are normally difficult to trace. If retailers have to remember one thing from this crisis, it is that they should look again at the balance between the costs of tracing systems... and the costs of crises like these.

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Is the cashier threatened with extinction?

Rewe zelfscanIn many countries, retailers are running experiments with automatic scanning and payment. In theory, the system would guarantee no theft, no errors and no cashiers to pay out.


Revolutionary inventions in France and North-Germany

Self-service checkpoints have existed for some time now, but retailers everywhere are announcing new tests to improve the scheme – like Auchan in Tourcoing, a French city just across the Belgian border who would introduce a self-service checkout where customers can pay cash.

German Edeka announced it will try a system with debit cards, where customers first add money to the card and then pay up to 20 euro without having to use cash. If successful, Edeka will expand the project to bigger amounts.


...and a scanning tunnel in Cologne

Rewe, another German company, will open a “scanning tunnel” in a Cologne supermarket, where scanners on each side of the tunnel will read the products' bar-codes. In this system, a cashier would still be necessary to scan heavy products that can not go through the tunnel – and oddly enough, for paying as well. Rewe thinks the new system will save the supermarket a lot of man-hours, which it will invest in customer service. The latter is remarkable, because most chains want to apply self-service checkouts to reduce man-hours and improve business margins.

A threat to social cohesion

Edeka selfservicekassaTrade unions in the UK and many other countries are worried, because aside from the Rewe example, automatisation is used to do the same work with fewer people. This can also be in other areas than the tills: Tesco has been testing an automatic navigation system for their customers. The fact that searching customers no longer have to bother employees during their work is estimated to be such a big cost reduction, that it would more than make up for the loss in impulse purchases that the system would cause.

This new invention fits in the evolution that supermarkets are no longer a place where you can have a nice chat with the employees or the cashiers. The in-store staff is too busy trying to reach their productivity targets, and with the self-service checkpoint growing ever more popular with supermarket directors, there will also be no more cashiers to talk to.


Alcohol is the solution?

The American state of California has offered cashiers a life line as a side-effect of law 'AB 183': this proposition forbids that alcohol be sold at self-service checkouts. In California, retailers would have the choice: stop selling alcohol, or stop converting to self-service checkouts. In a strange twist of fate, alcohol just might be the saviour of many people's jobs...



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