Carrefour's Brazilian takeover on hold

The Brazilian retail soap about the 'marriage' between Carrefour Brazil and Pão de Açúcar is probably nearing its conclusion, as the Brazilian state withdraws its financial backing for the merger. This is a consequence of Carrefour's arch-rival – and Pão de Açúcar's owner – Casino's decision to officially oppose to the merger.


Controversial merger plans

Carrefour's 10 billion euro takeover plans have always been very controversial, as its rival Casino currently owns a majority of Grupo Pão de Açúcar's shares. Casino had saved the Brazilian company from bankruptcy in 1997 and has invested over two billion euro in GPA. Nevertheless, the merger with Carrefour was supported in Brazil's highest ranks, including the president, who called the merger “a good thing for Brazil” and who promised to invest 1.7 billion euro in the construction through state development bank BNDES.


The notion that a state bank would invest such a large amount of money in the project of one of Brazil's richest citizens (and the nature of that project: selling the biggest Brazilian retailer to foreigners) was highly controversial. Added to these ethical concerns were legal problems: the plan would violate the shareholder agreement between GPA and Casino, resulting in – so far – two requests for arbitration against the former. BNDES also will face prosecution, as an enquiry has been initiated to check whether the merger would have been proper use of public money.


Merger suspended... for now?

When Casino's board of directors unanimously decided to oppose the merger, BNDES announced it was cancelling the deal. Casino is majority shareholder of Pão de Açúcar's owners Wilkes, and this decision caused co-owner Abilio Diniz to suspend the merger plans. But as every soap needs a cliffhanger, he added that he still believes that the merger is very valuable to shareholders and that this decision may well be re-evaluated in the future.


As the shareholder agreement with Casino forces Diniz to relinquish his presidency of Pão de Açúcar next year, many analysts believe that the flirt with Carrefour was the last attempt of Diniz to hold on to his holding. RetailDetail earlier pointed towards another key person for whom this merger is a matter of pride: Pierre Bouchut, general director at Casino until his dismissal in 2005 and now CFO at Carrefour. Both of them however now seem to be aiming for a lost cause.

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Biggest Russian retailer, X5, grows 41%


X5 Retail Group, Russia's largest retail holding, witnessed a 41% increase in sales in the second semester of 2011, owing to an increase in Russian consumer demand and the takeover of food discounter Kopeyka. 


2.8 billion euro sales

X5's sales grew from 79.8 billion ruble to 112 billion (2 to 2.8 billion euro), but CEO Andrei Gusev was not totally satisfied as the growth was slower than in the first quarter – and is expected to be slower still in the third. X5 Retail Group expects the growth to rise again in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Beating Wal-Mart in the chase

Part of the huge growth also comes from the integration of Kopeyka in X5, after the Russians outmanoeuvred American giant Wal-Mart to buy the food discounter for 35 billion ruble (880 million euro). Wal-Mart had been looking for an entry in the Russian market for some time and not acquiring Kopeyka was a setback for the world's number one retailer, who is still expected to enter the Russian market through a merger or a takeover within the next three years. 

Almost 3400 stores

The rapidly growing X5 group was formed in 2006 by a merger of soft discounter Pyaterochka and supermarket chain Perekrestok and was expanded in 2008 with hypermarkets Karusel and again in 2010 with Kopeyka. Currently, the group has 2263 soft Pyaterochka soft discount stores, 647 former Kopeyka stores, 307 Perekrestok supermarkets, 82 convenience stors, 68 Karusel hypermarkets, 19 Paterson supermarkets and 2 Pyaterochka Maxis. The 3388 stores received over 1.2 billion European Russians and Ukranians during 2010.

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Producers underestimate the power of smartphones

Producers keep underestimating the importance of delivering correct product information. In a transparent market, where customers armed with smartphones are becoming ever more powerful, such an attitude equals economic suicide.


Hundreds of millions of armed consumers eager for information

Before the end of this year, over half the population in many EU-countries and the US will have a smartphone, and their numbers will keep growing. Hundreds of millions of consumers use their smartphone to gather information, even at the moment of truth: in the supermarket.


Use of information retrieving apps grew 1600% in 2010

Up to 40 percent of smartphone owners have already downloaded an application to scan barcodes or QR-codes and retrieve product information while shopping. Recent research  shows the use of this applications has risen by 1600 percent (!) last year. These applications are used while the customer is choosing which product to buy in the supermarket – the moment of truth for distributors – so it is of the utmost importance that this information is available and correct. So far, many producers have not understood the importance of this trend.


Only 9% of information complete and correct

In their recent report Beyond the label, ordered by information standardising company GS1, CapGemini discovered that only 9 percent of British groceries displayed correct information to smartphone apps. This means that 91 percent of the 375 products from this sample had either missing or incorrect information – a good reason for the customer not to buy those products. More specifically, 7 percent showed information that was wrong, 9 percent had only partial information available and an enormous 75 percent had no information at all.


Consumers take action against defective information

In this super-fast society, this leads to growing frustrations with customers who want easy access to reliable product information. Over 40 percent of respondents indicated they will not buy a product if there is no information available for smartphones or if this information is not reliable. On the other hand, one in three customers quickly removes applications that display unreliable information.


The complete survey can be found here.


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British department store John Lewis expands web shop to Belgium

British up-market department store chain John Lewis has expanded its internet shop to serving Belgium today. This is just a first step in this country, as the chain has quite some more plans if the introduction proves successful.


Expansion to Belgium now, the rest of the EU next autumn

The British, Irish, French, Danish and Swedes are already familiar with John Lewis, and now the Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain can enjoy the chain's services – with the US, Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, Norway and most of the remaining EU countries joining the club next autumn.


No other currencies or languages accepted - for now

This is just a first step for the British retailer, who plans to expand its empire to the rest of the world step by step. While the current web shop is monolithic and monolingual, the plan includes localisation so that each country will have the web site available in its own language(s). Once that step is complete, the chain hopes to open physical stores in continental Europe too.


For the time being however, the website will be uniquely British – it will even not accept payment in euros. “The acceptance of the European currency will be included in the localisation process that also includes the introduction of other languages to our web shop”, said online manager Emma McLaughlin to the Financiële Telegraaf.


From Oxford Street to the rest of the world

John Lewis's first store opened in Oxford Street, London in 1864 and since then, the chain has expanded to 37 British stores and one web shop. After Britain, John Lewis now wants to conquer Europe and the rest of the world. The first step is creating a web presence in these countries: “To make a more significant investment, we need to be confident that the demand is worth it”, commercial director Andrea O'Donnell told the Financial Times in February, when the plan still was to expand to the rest of the EU in one go. realised a £567 million (€635 million) turnover in 2010, 38% more than the year before. This year, the group hopes to cross the £700 million threshold (€784 million) and aims at a foreign share of 1 to 5%.

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Wal-Mart avoids mass discrimination lawsuit

The American Supreme Court has ruled against a “class action lawsuit” in the Wal-Mart discrimination case. Six women had filed a complaint against their employer, complaining that they had less chances of promotion and a lower salary, only because they are women.


No class action lawsuit

The Supreme Court did not acquit Wal-Mart of discrimination, but it decided that it is impossible to judge the working conditions of 1.6 million female employees in once case. It reversed the San Francisco Court of Appeals' decision, saying the plaintiffs have not proven that all these women underwent the same discrimination – which is their legal obligation in order to be able to start a class action lawsuit.


No 11 billion dollar fine

Had the Supreme Court ruled the class action lawsuit valid, the complaint would have applied to 1.6 million women – with the possibility of costing Wal-Mart 11 billion dollars (7.6 billion euro) in case of conviction. As the Supreme Court did not clear the discrimination charges, the case will continue about these six women only. It goes without saying that now the scope has been reduced from 1.6 million to six women, the pressure on Wal-Mart and the height of the possible fines (as well as the media attention in the US) will be significantly smaller.


The National Women's Law Center was very disappointed with the verdict, stating that “the Court has told employers that they can rest easy, knowing that the bigger and more powerful they are, the less likely their employees will be able to join together to secure their rights.”

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Barbie destroys rainforest - as do Lego, Hasbro and Disney

“Barbie is mean: she destroys the Indonesian rainforest and threatens the last tigers, orang-utans and elephants, just to make her packaging pretty.” That is, according to Greenpeace, the reason why Ken should break up with her – as should we. The action also calls on consumers to send emails to Robert Eckert, Mattel's CEO.

The environment-friendly organisation launched their campaign in 40 countries in a larger action to save the Indonesian rainforest, that has shrunk by 74 million hectares (183 million acres) since 1950. The Asian country, with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, also holds one of the worst deforestation records – and Greenpeace has discovered that Mattel's paper supplier is an important contributor in this matter.


Lego, Hasbro, Disney: guilty too

“Mattel's supplier is Asia Pulp & Paper, is responsible for massive scale cutting of the Indonesian rainforest. A number of companies have already cancelled their contracts with APP, but major companies in the toy producing sector have not”, says Greenpeace's An Lembrechts. Indeed, it is not only Mattel, but also Lego, Hasbro and Disney are still working with APP to destroy endangered species. “Time is running out”, says Greenpeace, “as there are only 400-500 tigers alive in Indonesia. And elephants and orang-utans are on the highway to extinction, too...”

Last year, Greenpeace already campaigned against the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. It forced food giants Nestlé to end its cooperation with suppliers who destroyed rainforests and bogs for the production of palm oil. Over 2 million people watched last year's video, 200,000 of them sent Nestlé's CEO Paul Bulcke an e-mail to urge him to end these cooperations. “That was a succes”, says Lambrechts, “as Nestlé started to work with the Forest Trust, an organisation dedicated to ban deforestation out of production chains. That was a huge step forward.”

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Planet last resort for Carrefour

“Holding a strong position in your home market is a requirement for international success” is a universal retail truth, best embodied by Tesco. This is a big threat for Carrefour, as the French retailers are not nearly as successful on home soil as the British giants. For Carrefour, everything now depends on its new format Carrefour Planet. 


The handicap of a head start

Carrefour suffers from the handicap of a head start: when it invented the hypermarket in the 1960s, to which it owes its status as leading international retailer, the format was revolutionary. Since then however, the format that has become Carrefour's backbone has barely changed, while its competitors – in order to reduce their arrears – have searched for renovating ideas. 


Tesco only sought international expansion in 1993, over twenty years after Carrefour's rapid internationalisation and only after it had developed a solid home base. With at least one store in each British postcode district, a differentiation in smaller and bigger stores and the adoption of non-food and services, Tesco is vital in every Briton's life. 


Planet to save Carrefour?

Carrefour's main problem is its focus on hypermarkets: while that format brings in 62% of Carrefour's turnover, it is a stagnating market. To turn the tide, the French retailer has to differentiate its stores and rebrand its old hypermarkets into Carrefour Planets: hypermarkets with fewer non-food and more (profitable) food articles. 

The new concept will be used mainly in France, but will be exported as well. The aim is to put Carrefour on the map again, but the management – highly pressurised by shareholders Bernard Arnault and private equity firm Colony Capital – knows that the rebranding will cost a lot of money.


Tesco earned its money for expansion through a sale and lease back operation, but Carrefour had another strategy: introducing 25% of its real estate branch on the stock markets. This strategy quickly became controversial and has been postponed – and its main proponent, leader of Carrefour France, James McCann has been axed. 


Victory or death

McCann's dismissal quickly follows another hastened discharge: that of director Vincente Trius. Trius formerly worked for Wal-Mart and McCann came from Tesco, proving that transferring successful managers to another company is no recipe for success. 


In no time, Carrefour's European operation is decapitated. Tomorrow, Carrefour will provide more information about the flotation of its discount branch Dia. In a strange twist of irony, discount could save hypermarket with this move. If the operation fails, chairman Olofsson too could face a famous French invention: the guillotine.



By Pascal Kuipers, Alsano Communicatie

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Apple "most valuable brand" on Earth

Google lost its title of most valuable company in the world to Apple, says research company Millward Brown. The iCompany's brand value grew 84% in one year and rose to 153.3 billion dollar. Google stays second, IBM completes the top-3.

Technology dominates the top-100

the first three places are held by IT companies, but also one in three places in the Brandz top-100, including the biggest climbers Facebook (19.1 billion, climbing to #35 with a growth of 246%) and Chinese search engine Baidu (+141% and new in the list).

In textile country, Nike (13.9 billion dollar), H&M (13 billion) and Zara (10.3 billion) tower over the rest; number four is a huge 7 billion dollars behind (Ralph Lauren at 3.3 billion). The luxury brands, led by Louis Vuitton (24.3 billion), experienced a remarkable boom last year. Hermes (11.9 billion) and Gucci (7.4 billion) also finish in the top-3.


E-commerce defeats Walmart

Amazon are now the biggest retailers in the world: their worth of 37.6 billion dollar (+37%) is now slightly bigger than Walmart's 37.3 billion. Tesco holds the third spot but is only worth half an Amazon (21.8 billion). The rest of the top-10 consists of Carrefour, Target, eBay, HomeDepot, Aldi, Auchan and Ikea.

The total value of the 100 brands in the list have risen 17% to a staggering 2.4 trillion dollar. Most remarkable is the breakthrough of BRIC-companies. The highest non-American company in the list, at number 9, is China Mobile, worth 57 billion dollar.

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Unilever grows five quarters in a row

English-Dutch Unilever announced this morning that their first quarter of 2011 has been terrific. Turnover rose 7.0% to 10.9 billion euro, owing to both a bigger sales volume and higher prices. Unilever grew in all their categories and most of their regions. Only Western Europe has witnessed a negative underlying sales growth. 


Innovation and introduction

CEO Paul Polman expressed his joy about the excellent results “against a backdrop of rising commodity costs, weak consumer confidence and very competitive markets.” He recognises two key factors in his company's good results: innovation (of new products) and introduction (of strong brands in new markets). 


Now the integration of Sara Lee is “well on track”, Unilever turns to its next target as it hopes to complete the acquisition of Alberto Culber in quarter two. “We continue to focus on the long term development of the business and our priorities remain: profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable underlying operating margin improvement and strong cash flow”, said Polman.


Double figures in Latin America

Unilever's strongest region is the (admittedly, not really geographically limited) region of “Africa, Asia and Central- and Eastern Europe”, earning 42% of Unilever's world total or 4.5 billion euro. Unilever Americas grew to 3.6 billion, while Western Europe reached 2.7 billion. In more detail, Latin-America saw the biggest growth (“double figures”, according to the statement), while Western Europe and CEE “were weaker”.


Deodorants are Unilever's strongest general product category, while Dove is one of the biggest growing products – especially in Latin America. Magnum's introduction to the US and Indonesia has been pushing the ice cream department to a huge progress – while soups (like Knorr) had a disappointing quarter due to “the mild winter in Europe”. 


Unilever's statement ended with a warning: as in a number of European countries (including Belgium and the Netherlands) quite a few investigations are made by competition agencies, it is possible that some of those might have a negative effect on Unilever's yearly results. Still, the statement ensures that all the possible provisions have been made.

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