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High Gas Prices + Warm Weather = Low Sales?

BY Jeff Green

Well, 2012 is certainly off to a wild start. While there’s been nothing quite as dramatic and earth shattering as last year’s tsunami in Japan, there are plenty of global events and outside influences affecting our industry. I’m talking about the increases we’re seeing at the gas pumps and the warmer-than-average winter we’ve been experiencing throughout the country.

To me, the biggest issue we’re facing is the price of gas. Rising gas prices can have a double-barreled impact on consumers: Fundamentally of course, the more money we have to put into our gas tanks, the less disposable income we have, but the bigger issue is how it affects consumer confidence — both lead to potentially quieter cash registers. It would be a real shame if the small-but-significant increase in consumer confidence that we have seen over the last few months–thanks to a somewhat better-than-expected holiday shopping season–gets stalled or even reversed by higher gas prices. What is even more of a concern to me is that gas prices have not only gone up, but they show no signs of leveling off and are, in fact, projected to steadily rise in the foreseeable future.

While retailers have reason to be concerned about gas price forecasts, it’s another kind of forecasting that’s had retail analysts shaking their heads this year: this all-too-unusual warm weather! While we normally think about the more extreme weather events impacting retail sales, a significantly warmer winter has certainly been problematic. Winter apparel is not exactly flying off the shelves, leaving retailers to do some deep discounting to get rid of the leftover stock. It’s a meteorological curveball that has more than a few retailers frustrated.

Together, these external factors make for an unfortunate one-two punch. In my opinion, these two phenomenon might be an early signal that late winter/early spring is going to be a little bit tougher for retailers than we might have anticipated a couple of months ago. Department stores and specialty apparel stores might be especially vulnerable, and there are already signs that discounters are not doing very well. What does this mean for retail real estate? I think that some of the expansion plans that were back on the agenda after a tough couple of years might end up on temporary hold as retailers wait to see how things shake out over the next few months. Unfortunately, these kind of big-picture trends are essentially out of retailers’ control; you just can’t predict when these things will happen. So, you can’t really prepare for them.

The bright side I see in all of this is that the news is not all bad. We recently saw the Dow close over 13,000 for the first time in years and the job market seems to have turned the corner. While the jobs momentum is encouraging, I think the stock market is still an abstract phenomenon for most consumers, but gas prices are all too real. I think consumer psychology is very important — after all, perception is reality. I suspect many retailers are crossing their fingers, hoping that the higher gas prices and warmer weather won’t completely ruin the first quarter.

What do you think? Please make a public comment below or feel free to e-mail me privately at [email protected]


Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.

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Another celebrity chef joins HSN ranks

BY CSA STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Celebriy Chef Curtis Stone will debut his Kitchen Solutions line March 16 to 17 on HSN. Stone will appear live on HSN during a special one-hour preview at 1 p.m. (EDT) on March 16 and throughout the day on March 17 as part of the multi-channel retailer’s "24 Hour HSN Cooks Event."

"HSN is the perfect platform to show America the solutions I have created to make home cooking simple and fun," said Stone. "I partnered with HSN to launch my line of Kitchen Solutions because they are experts in the industry and have a solid appreciation for quality products that enhance the home cooking experience."

The Curtis Stone Kitchen Solutions line will include a variety of prep tools, cookware, bakeware and serving ware that help solve everyday challenges in the kitchen. Key items in the line include the Hardstuff 11-piece hard anodized cookware set, Pop-Out bakeware, Showtime Presentation Rings, Bump & Grind mortar and pestle and Hold Me mixing bowls.

A preview of the Curtis Stone Kitchen Solutions collection, along with show times and more information on the "24 Hour HSN Cooks Event" is available at www.HSN.com.

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Nothing fishy about Supervalu’s seafood policy

BY CSA STAFF

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Supervalu, which already has committed to providing customers with sustainably-sourced wild-caught seafood, has taken the next steps to ensure its farm-raised seafood is also sourced responsibly. The company announced that it is partnering with the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) to implement a new, comprehensive procurement policy to ensure sustainable sourcing of farm-raised seafood. The company officially unveiled this agreement in conjunction with their participation at The International Boston Seafood Show, which is currently underway and is North America’s largest seafood trade event.

Through this agreement, Supervalu will adopt Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification for the company’s aquaculture procurement policy. Supervalu said its goal is to work closely with GAA and suppliers to ensure that all farm-raised products are BAP certified to the farm level by early 2013, where certification standards are available.

In addition to this agreement, Supervalu announced the discontinuation of six wild-caught seafood species due to unsustainable sourcing concerns. This action follows Supervalu’s commitment with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), announced last spring, to source 100% of its top-twenty wild-caught seafood products from sustainable fisheries or those on a clear pathway to sustainability by 2015.

“We’ve always viewed our sustainable seafood policy as an ongoing commitment. With this new agreement, Supervalu is fully committed to sustainable sourcing practices for both wild-caught and farm-raised seafood,” said Chris Hooks, Supervalu’s VP meat, seafood, dairy and frozen foods. “When combined with our decision to discontinue six unsustainable seafood species from our stores, our customers can be confident that we are doing our part to ensure a viable seafood supply both now and in the future.”

The six specific seafood items being discontinued at Supervalu and its banners are: orange roughy, shark, monk, bluefin tuna, skates, and hoki.

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