Monday, 09 January 2017 15:04

Bad weather means good sales for retailers

Southeast snow, nationwide cold front could be a welcome blast

This post is part of the 10 Items or Less blog.

As the first week of the new year brought more lousy news for grocery – weakening demand sinking sales in December, and pessimistic forecasts for some of the industry’s biggest stocks – it likely comes as a relief to grocery retailers that a temporary solution was literally falling from the sky by week’s end.

And while the forecast snowstorm in the Southeast U.S. was sparking what looked to be enormous spikes in grocery store traffic for the obligatory bread-and-milk runs, things were actually improving all over as a nationwide cold front is motivating shoppers to seek “need-based” items in an otherwise quiet period for shopping, said Evan Gold, EVP of global service for Planalytics, the Berwyn, Pa.-based firm that forecasts demand based on weather.

“I think this is overall good news for grocery as the entire U.S. is facing below-normal temperatures this week,” Gold said Friday morning. “We’re in a post-holiday, post-gift-giving period where people are spending only on what they need. When the weather is like this, we see needs for items like hot drinks, rock salt, wiper blades and snow shovels go up.”

An Instagram photo of a busy pre-storm Kroger store in Atlanta.

Like the haircut, the snow shovel tends to be one of those purchases that can stand up to the threat of online retail. “People just don’t buy them until they absolutely need them and by then is often too late to order it online,” Gold noted. “It’s an item people wind up going to the store for.”

Gold said the grocery rush ahead of a storm tends to redistribute the pattern of traffic more than bring new customers to a store, so the opportunity for retailers in that space — in addition to managing labor and supply chains — is to grow the categories that accompany the weather.

This week, for example, Planalytics is forecasting ice melt sales up 63% vs. the same period last year; snow shovels will spike by 39%; and firelogs and hot chocolate will each see a 4% increase, nationwide. Retailers in Charlotte, N.C., can expect ice melt sales to jump by 200%. Atlanta grocery stores should see hot chocolate up by 17% this week, Gold added.

But even places like New York, where we awoke Friday to see an inch of snow had fallen overnight, should get a boost, he said. “A dusting is good because it’s not enough to keep you inside, but still enough to spark some demand.”

Attention Kmart shoppers
It’s hard to believe today, but there was a time when there was some debate about whether Wal-Mart or Kmart would win the supercenter war.

Kmart’s latest round of store closings include three casualties in its so-called “K-fresh” store test group: Roseville, Mich., Chillicoth, Ohio, and Uniontown, Pa. All of those stores were one-time Super Kmarts with full-blown grocery stores inside that were downsized in recent years to a smattering of fresh and staple items in a manner not unlike Target’s “p-fresh” stores. Liquidation sales begin Saturday. read more

Jon Springer
www.supermarketnews.com

Published in Retail News

For Immediate Release: March 30, 2016
CONTACT: James Miller This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., (850)701-3015

Monthly distribution dates for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program increase from 15 to 28 days starting April 1; FRF’s success in supporting this legislation will lead to expanded food selection for consumers, and better inventory control for retailers

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Florida Retail Federation (FRF), the state’s premier trade association representing retailers for over 75 years, and its Florida Grocers Association (FGA) division, remind retailers and SNAP recipients that the monthly distribution dates for the program increase from 15 days to 28 days effective April 1. FRF & FGA were very involved in pushing for this legislation, which took place during the 2015 Legislative Session but takes effect this year, and will significantly benefit both customers and retailers by allowing for better selection, inventory control and customer service. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with 3.6 million Florida recipients representing close to $5.5 billion in economic impact to the state’s economy.

“This extension of SNAP benefits means recipients will have more access to healthy food and fewer of those important items out of stock by allowing retailers to better spread out their inventory over the 28 days, as opposed to the previous rush that would occur when the schedule was just 15 days,” said FRF President/CEO Randy Miller. “We want to thank Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Hudson for his hard work in recognizing the negative impact this issue had on both consumers and business owners by creating this important legislation and making a positive impact on our communities. We also want to recognize the Department of Children and Families for the seamless implementation of these distribution dates throughout the state.”

Enhanced SNAP distribution increases the number of days SNAP benefits are distributed throughout the state from the current 15 days to 28 days, effective April 1. This will lead to:

  • Better selection – For many SNAP recipients, transportation to the grocery store can be a challenge, and having items out of stock requires they return for another shopping trip.
  • Better customer service – By spreading SNAP distribution, grocery stores are able provide better customer service by not having as many customers concentrated in a shorter time frame, thereby providing more help and attention to SNAP Customers.
  • Better inventory control – Retailers will be able to reduce out of stock items and reduce some of the pressure of having enough products for the SNAP Customer.
  • More consistent workforce – Previously, retailers had difficulty scheduling properly due to so much concentration of business in the first half of the month.

FRF looks forward to the positive impact this legislation will have on residents and business owners going forward.

ABOUT THE FLORIDA RETAIL FEDERATION
The Florida Retail Federation is the statewide trade association representing retailers -- the businesses that sell directly to consumers. Florida retailers provide one out of every five jobs in the state, pay more than $49 billion in wages annually, and collect and remit more than $20 billion in sales taxes for Florida’s government each year. For more information, visit the FRF website, and follow FRF on Facebook and Twitter.

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Published in Media Relations

For Immediate Release: March 22, 2016
CONTACT: James Miller This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., (850) 701-3015

Florida Retail Federation’s Josie Legido Correa to take reigns as Executive Director, and serve as lead advocate for the needs of Florida’s $45 billion grocery industry

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Florida Grocers Association (FGA), a division of the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) and the state’s lead advocate for its $45 billion grocery industry, announced that Josie Legido Correa will take over as Executive Director, replacing longtime grocery veteran Tom Jackson who will remain as a consultant to FRF. Correa’s official date leading the organization is effective March 21.

“Josie has extensive experience meeting the diverse needs of FRF’s members and serving as a successful advocate for Florida’s retailers, including grocers, and announcing her as new Executive Director is a natural fit,” said FRF President/CEO Randy Miller. “I want to thank Tom Jackson for his incredible leadership and dedication to launching FGA last year and positioning it as the premier organization and voice for the Sunshine State’s grocery industry. I look forward to Josie expanding on the foundation that Tom has built and ensuring FGA becomes the powerful and impactful voice the industry needs.”

Josie has served as FRF’s South Florida Regional Director since 2013, and has significantly grown the organization’s membership in that area by showcasing the benefits of FRF membership, hosting networking and educational events and working with local and state officials on behalf of FRF members regarding issues impacting their business. In preparation for her new role as FGA Executive Director, Correa has been working with local and statewide grocers under the guidance of Jackson, who spent 35 years leading a state’s grocery industry, to better understand their needs and those issues important to them.

“This is a great opportunity to grow an organization which serves such an important and diverse sector of Florida’s economy, and I am thankful for the opportunity,” said Correa. “Tom’s insight has been invaluable to me and he has left FGA in an incredible position for me to take to the next level. I’m excited about what the future holds for Florida’s grocers and I look forward to advocating for them at the local, state and national level.”

Florida has not had a statewide grocers association for 20 years. FGA was launched last year to provide a voice and identity to the state’s $45 billion grocery industry. Correa will look to continue expanding FGA’s membership while also serving the needs of the more than 2,300 grocery stores and their industry partners statewide.

For more information about the Florida Grocers Association, please visit flgrocers.org.

ABOUT THE FLORIDA RETAIL FEDERATION
Founded in 1937, the Florida Retail Federation is the statewide trade association representing retailers -- the businesses that sell directly to consumers. Florida retailers provide three out of every four jobs in the state, pay more than $49 billion in wages annually, and collect and remit more than $20 billion in sales taxes for Florida’s government each year. In fact, more than three out of four of Florida’s budget dollars come from retail-related activity. For more information, visit the FRF website, and follow FRF on Facebook and Twitter.

# # #

Published in Media Relations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 23, 2015
CONTACT: James Miller, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., (850) 701-3015

The rebranded association will advocate for and support the needs of Florida’s grocery industry; former Ohio Grocery Association exec Tom Jackson to lead efforts

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Florida Retail Federation (FRF), the state’s premier trade association representing retailers for over 75 years, recently held its 2015 Summer Meeting where President/CEO Rick McAllister announced that FRF’s Grocery Council will be rebranded to the Florida Grocers Association. This rebranded Association will continue to be a division of the Florida Retail Federation with a clear vision to serve Florida’s $45 billion grocery industry.

“Florida’s grocers are such an important and influential part of our economy, and we felt that this rebranding better reflects the impactful role they play for both businesses and consumers,” said McAllister. “We felt the Council needed to be better positioned to meet today’s needs and challenges of the state’s grocery industry, and the Florida Grocers Association provides the appropriate level of support and awareness.”

McAllister said that Tom Jackson, a current FRF consultant and a retired former CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association, will serve as Interim Executive Director of the new Florida Grocers Association, and will look to continue expanding its membership while also serving the needs of the more than 2,300 grocery stores and their industry partners statewide. Jackson currently serves as the Director of FRF’s Grocery Council.

“Tom brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise about how to properly manage an organization of this size, while also growing its membership,” said McAllister. “Tom successfully ran a similar organization in Ohio for 25 years, and I look forward to the positive impact he’ll have here in Florida as we look to better serve the needs of Florida’s grocers.”

“I’m very excited about this new association, as it will provide a greater and more defined identity to serve Florida grocers,” stated Jackson. “Florida is the third largest state in the nation yet didn’t have a grocers association. Our industry is too big and too important not to be served by an association dedicated to grocer’s needs. With substantial resources already in place, like our excellent Government Relations Team and topnotch administrative support, we will hit the ground running.”

FRF will unveil a new logo, updated website and other marketing support for the Association in the coming weeks.

ABOUT THE FLORIDA RETAIL FEDERATION
The Florida Retail Federation is the statewide trade association representing retailers -- the businesses that sell directly to consumers. Florida retailers provide one out of every five jobs in the state, pay more than $49 billion in wages annually, and collect and remit more than $20 billion in sales taxes for Florida’s government each year.

Published in Media Relations
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 10:48

2-17-2015 ABL Update from RBC

Florida: Battle grows for repeal of Florida alcohol / grocery separation laws

Source: St. Peters Blog
By Phil Ammann
February 11, 2015

Floridians for Fair Business Practices (FFBP) announced today the addition of several new coalition members joining the fight to take down the state's Prohibition-era alcohol/grocery separation laws.

New members include the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, nearly 2,000 Floridians so far have signed a petition supporting state legislation to allow groceries and spirits to be sold in the same location.

The coalition supports HB 499/SB 468, which seeks to repeal what FFBP calls an "archaic law" so retailers can sell alcohol and spirits in the same aisle as beer, wine and other grocery items. The law has been on the books since 1935.

"When there are laws that have outlived their purpose and relevance, it's time to take them off the books," Florida Restaurant and Lodging president/CEO Carol Dover said. "This Prohibition-era law needs to be repealed so large and small retailers may compete on the same level playing field."

"This is a matter of government over regulation. Small business needs to have the same advantages as large business for competition purposes," said Windell Paige, president of the Tallahassee-based Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce.

Winter Haven Republican Rep. John Wood and Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, filed HB 499 and SB 468, respectively, as repealer bills.

Florida is one of 20 states with a separation law: Other states have the ability to co-mingle their alcohol products to offer customer convenience and less regulation.

Wood said repealing alcohol separation issue supports free markets, offers fewer regulations and creates a level playing field among independent retailers.

"If passed," Wood said, "this law would allow establishments who want to sell spirits in the same aisle as beer and wine, where even greater security measures are in place, to do so without being forced to comply with some antiquated law."

Grimsley pointed out that the issue is a barrier to consumers' shopping choices in the marketplace.

"In this case, Florida shoppers and shopkeepers should be able to decide what's on the grocery shelf, not government," she said.


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Texas: WAL-MART STORES, INC., WAL-MART STORES TEXAS, LLC, SAM'S EAST, INC., and QUALITY LICENSING CORP.
Plaintiffs,
v.
TEXAS ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE COMMISSION; JOSÉ CUEVAS, JR. in his official capacity as Presiding Officer of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission; STEVEN M. WEINBERG, in his official capacity as commissioner of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission; IDA CLEMENT STEEN, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission,
Defendants.

Copy of the suit: http://inudocs.buffalotrace.com/WalmartSuit.pdf



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Connecticut: Malloy Wants Lower Liquor Prices

Source: Courant
By MARK PAZNIOKAS
February 14th

Unable to lower taxes and certain to cut services, it looks like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will try to lighten next week's austerity budget message with at least the possibility of cheaper booze.

Malloy chose an appearance on WPLR-FM's irreverent Chaz and AJ radio show Friday to say that he was going to take another crack at loosening Connecticut's controls on alcoholic beverage pricing, plus the hours and ownership of package stores.

The Democratic governor succeeded in lifting the Sunday ban on retail alcohol sales in 2012, but failed to persuade the General Assembly to overhaul laws that he says stifle competition and inflate prices.

"It's time to take it to the next level," Malloy said.

His hosts, who obviously knew what was coming, literally toasted the announcement, taking a shot of tequila brought by the governor. Malloy declined to join them, saying that he hadn't worked out yet.

His new effort will be part of the proposed budget that Malloy will present Wednesday to the General Assembly for the two-year fiscal period that begins July 1. Its inclusion in the budget is an indication that his administration is going to claim that longer hours and cheaper prices will mean higher sales and more tax revenue.

The governor wants to allow the retail sale of beer, wine and spirits until 10 p.m., except for 8 p.m. on Sundays. Closing times are now 9 p.m., except for 5 p.m. on Sundays.

More significantly for the industry, Malloy is trying once again to allow a degree of chain ownership of package stores by raising from three to six the number of store permits that one owner may hold.

Three years ago, Malloy tried to raise the limit from two to nine, then revised his proposal to six. The legislature consented to three.

The governor is not proposing to lift another control on the number of package stores, a municipal cap that pegs the number of package store licenses in any community to its population - one license for every 2,500 residents.

The laws setting terms for the sale of beer, wine and spirits date to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and have proved resistant to change, as the strong-willed governor discovered in 2012.

This year, Malloy is proposing to revise, not repeal, the rules for pricing. He says that he would maintain minimum bottle pricing, but allow steeper discounts than are now allowed by law - all the way to actual cost.

The pricing and hours of sale for alcohol are heavily regulated and heavily lobbied in Connecticut, where a well-organized mom-and-pop package store industry managed to stave off Sunday sales longer than in nearly every other state.

"Nobody in any other line of retail would get away with this stuff," Malloy said Friday of the laws limiting the hours of operation. "We're not making you work. If you don't want to open, don't open."

The closing hours proposed by Malloy this year are no later than in any surrounding state. Closing times are 10 p.m. in Rhode Island and 11 p.m. in Massachusetts every night but Sunday. In New York, beer may be sold 24 hours a day, while wine and spirit sales are permitted until midnight.

Malloy said that he anticipates a tough sales job at the legislature.

"People who benefit from higher prices, they want to keep higher prices," he said.

Lobbying Already Underway

Lobbyists for Total Wine & More, a national retailer that wants to add stores in Connecticut and compete on price, are facing off against other elements of the industry, including a well-organized association of small package store owners that long has demonstrated political clout.

The push-back began on the air.

Mike, a caller who identified himself as a driver for a liquor distributor, complained that Malloy's proposal would benefit big retailers and push some mom-and-pops out of business, costing jobs for drivers and others in the supply chain.

Carroll Hughes, the long-time lobbyist for the package stores, said that the changes in pricing and permitting would radically transform a retail segment now controlled by small-business owners.

"It's like a one-two punch," Hughes said.

He estimated that more than half the state's 1,100 package stores would close in the face of big-box competition like Total Wine, which opened a 35,000-square-foot super store in Norwalk two years ago and is about to max out under existing law with new stores in Manchester and Milford.

"It's all designed for Total's business," Hughes said.

Total Wine has its own lobbyist, Peter Smith of Rome, Smith and Lutz Government Relations. David Trone, the president of Total Wine, said that his company would expand to six stores if allowed by law.

"The proposal is a great step forward for Connecticut," Trone said. "Get into the 21st century and leave Prohibition behind."

Already operating 113 stores in 16 states, Total Wine is about to open its first store in Massachusetts, which recently changed its laws to eventually allow common ownership of up to nine stores.

Trone said that the liquor industry is regulated everywhere, but that Connecticut's controls on pricing are the most restrictive. Minimum bottle pricing, known as "min bottle" in the trade, is unique to the state, he said.

"The min bottle is an atrocious, anti-consumer abomination that doesn't exist anywhere in America but Connecticut," Trone said. "It's there to protect the existing businesses at the expense of consumers 52 weeks a year."

The law should allow stores to compete on price, convenience and selection, he said. And to Trone, convenience means longer hours of operation.

Another beneficiary of longer hours would be supermarkets that sell beer, because many already are open until 10 p.m. and could continue sales without any increase in cost, Hughes said.

"Sunday sales transferred business from the little stores to the food stores," Hughes said. "Unfortunately, the governor thinks bigger is better, and we don't agree with that."

The foundation of the liquor market in every state is a simple three-tier system of producers, distributors and retailers, but the rules dictating the relationships between those tiers are complex.

Connecticut is one of 18 states with post-and-hold pricing laws that effectively control prices at the wholesale level.

Every month, each producer, wholesaler, distributor and out-of-state shipper must post their prices with the Department of Consumer Protection. Once the prices are posted, a distributor has four days to lower his price to meet but not beat a lower price offered by another wholesaler.

Liquor and wine distributors also must post a "bottle price" for each product that is the actual cost charged to a retailer, plus a markup. Distributors must file a schedule of suggested consumer retail prices.

Malloy says that no other market has such controls on competition and price.

"It is conceivable that announcing wholesale prices before the period of final sale may reduce competition by discouraging distributors from undercutting (e.g., by offering discounts to certain retailers) each other," according to a 2012 study of liquor pricing in Connecticut.

Hughes said that taxes also contribute to higher prices in Connecticut, which subjects retail alcohol to the sales tax in addition to excise taxes. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire do not charge a sales tax on alcoholic beverages, he said.

The state also is unusual for its large number of small package stores, which have been afforded a degree of protection against market forces. Massachusetts, a much larger state, has roughly the same number of stores, Hughes said.


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Quick Note - Pernod Ricard (RI FP, Buy) - January cognac data

Source: Nomura
February 13, 2015

European Beverages
Stock Rating: Buy
Target Price: EUR 115.00
PERP.PA (EUR 103.20)
Ian Shackleton - NIplc

Positive momentum globally
BNIC (official Cognac website) today released data for global cognac shipments in January. These are shipments out of France that come before company shipments to wholesalers, so they do not correlate directly with company-reported data. Global shipments in January rose 8.9% vs soft comps -11.5% after December's -5.9%, underlying momentum improving with MAT -2.0%. Shipments in America were +8.0% vs comps +5.8%, giving MAT +12.4% and Europe shipments were -12.5% vs comps -1.8%, giving MAT -9.0%.

Inflection point over Chinese New Year
January was the third consecutive month of positive shipments into Asia at +31.7%, admittedly against easy comp (-35.7%). Chinese New Year is currently taking place in China (three weeks later than PY) and we remain strong believers that this will be an inflection point. Given the volatility in shipments in between months, we have looked at the three-month average shipments vs the previous year. We see a clearly improving trend: February-April -6%, May-July -30%, August-October -21% and November-January +15%.

Pernod (Buy; TP EUR 115)

China accounts for close to 10% of revenues.

With 1H results yesterday the key emerging market division Asia/ROW saw flat revenues; restated for phasing of CNY +3% vs 1H13 -4%. Within this, China revenue shipments in 1H were -6% adjusted for the later CNY, which is an improvement on 1Q's -9%.

We believe that the gradually improving trend in China vs FY13/14 will be confirmed with the upcoming CNY (three weeks later than previous year); the company will host one of its regular investor calls on the Asia division on 26 March, which will have a further update. This continues to support our positive thesis on momentum in shipments in China in FY15.

Remy (Neutral; TP EUR 60)

China accounted for close to 30% of profits historically.

With 3Q results in January the company indicated an increase in shipments to Greater China, which appears to reflect more normal shipment patterns to wholesalers compared with the destocking last year. Sales in China are now focused on private consumption with little gifting; the company believes that it is gaining share in super-premium cognac (where it focuses - although we think it is losing overall share as it is not involved much in lower prices) and the company indicates mix has improved. Even with Remy focused on the top end of cognac, we expect this to turn the corner in calendar 2015.

Although the company had targeted flat depletions for the year, the profit guidance (organic EBIT to be up) assumes a decline, so that looks secure even if Chinese New Year is disappointing. The Chinese government appears to be less aggressive on anti-corruption than six months ago, with the exception of Macau.

Valuation
Pernod trades at 2015E P/E of 19.1x vs the spirits average of 21.2x (Remy 33.4x).


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Suntory Beverage & Food (2587.T)

F12/14 Results: F12/15 Plan as Expected; Upward Revision Possible if Summer Weather Favorable

Source: Morgan Stanley
FEBRUARY 13, 2015 GMT

Opinion on Shares - No surprise: SBF's F12/15 plan is for OP up 7% YoY to ¥92.0bn. While below our ¥93.5bn est., the difference mainly owes to the weak euro, and the plan comes as no surprise. SBF's plan does seem a bit conservative.

Opinion on Results - No surprise: F12/14 OP rose 18% YoY to ¥85.9bn, with the slight beat vs. SBF plan of ¥85.0bn due to strength in Asia (mainly Vietnam). OP in overseas business grew 27%, owing partly to Lucozade and Ribena, plus the weak yen (excl. FX, profit up 18%), and this was the earnings driver. Domestically, SBF saw a 3% profit increase owing to the popularity of Tokucha tea and a sales plan centering on 500ml PET bottles.

Opinion on Outlook - No surprise: SBF's plan for F12/15 calls for OP up 7% YoY to ¥92.0bn, below our ¥93.5bn est. But this mainly stems from different FX assumptions (SBF plan: ¥135/?; our: ¥140/?), and in terms of content, SBF's plan is in line with our outlook. Given that SBF is assuming ales volume domestically will be flat and that it is not forecasting a drop in PET prices tied to lower oil prices, SBF could (continued.)


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The ultimate A-Z of alcohol

Source: The Spirits Business
by Becky Paskin
13th February, 2015

With so many fantastic alcoholic drinks created from a variety of agricultural sources using numerous processes, this handy pocket guide is a must for drinks geeks to stay on top of their game.

This handy infographic, courtesy of online retailer Wine Bags, lists the ingredients and production method of 49 different alcoholic beverages, from absinthe through to wine, and taking in everything from palinka, pisco and poitin on the way.

It may be a layman's guide, with easy-to-follow descriptions and average alcohol contents, but explains the production processes of some of the world's most popular, and niche, drinks in an accessible way.

If you've ever found yourself at a loss for explaining what's in your favourite drink, or exactly how it's made, save this web page in your browser for a handy reference.

http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2015/02/the-ultimate-a-z-of-alcohol/


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Wells Fargo's Weekly Economic & Financial Commentary

Source: Wells Fargo
February 13, 2015

U.S.
Consumer spending looks to have gotten off to a slow start in 2015 as retail sales fell 0.8% in January, barely "better" than the expected 0.9% decline in December.

Excluding gasoline, sales were flat in January with declines at auto dealers, food & beverage stores, and clothing retailers being offset by modest gains at restaurants & bars, home improvement stores, and online retailers.

The sizable decline in gasoline prices in recent months was expected to boost consumer spending on other items, but much of the recent savings went toward additional gasoline purchases and personal savings.

Despite the disappointing retail figures, the December Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) showed job openings advancing to a nearly 14-year high.

The number of workers quitting their jobs rose for the month and is up 12.4% over the past year, suggesting that workers are becoming more confident in their employment prospects at other firms, likely putting upward pressure on wages.

International
The German economy grew at a better-than-expected 0.7% quarter-over-quarter (not annualized), while the Eurozone grew 0.3%.

Meanwhile, China continues to weaken, with inflation now approaching zero and consumer prices increasing by only 0.8% year-over-year in January.


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US consumers cautious despite jobs growth

Source: FT
Sam Fleming in Washington
February 12, 2015

Retail sales in the US were disappointing again last month, suggesting that American consumers were cautious about spending at the start of the year, despite the strengthening jobs market.

Sales fell 0.8 per cent from the previous month, a sharper drop than predicted by Wall Street analysts, as tumbling oil prices dragged down receipts at petrol stations.

A narrower measure of sales that excludes petrol, motor vehicles, food services and building materials saw a modest 0.1 per cent sales rise following a 0.3 per cent drop in December.

The commerce department report followed weak numbers in December and suggested that many consumers were banking petrol-related savings rather than splashing out. However, retail sales are only 30 per cent of total consumer spending, and many economists expect a pickup in the months ahead on the back of improving disposable incomes.

Jobs growth across the past three months has been the strongest since 1997, while wages jumped the most since 2008 in January. Across the whole of the fourth quarter of 2014, real consumer spending rose by an annualised 4.3 per cent - the most since 2006.

The retail report revealed declines across a range of categories, including furniture stores, sporting goods and clothing. Car sales fell 0.5 per cent.

The standout drop was at gasoline stations, with a 9.3 per cent month-on-month fall - the largest since December 2008.

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services, said that given consumers spent $11bn less in petrol stations than in January last year, this was likely to give them more spending firepower in the months ahead, leading to a rebound in retail sales in February and March.
Chart: US retail sales

In some areas, there were signs of higher discretionary expenditure. Spending at restaurants and bars was up 0.8 per cent on the month and by 11.3 per cent compared with a year earlier, according to the data. This was the biggest annual gain on record, according to figures going back to the early 1990s.

"Jobs are up, incomes are up, confidence is up and gas prices are down," said Mr Hoffman. "Do not despair, the American consumer is alive and well."


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United Kingdom: Young turn their back on drink as teetotalism flourishes

Total abstinence in fashion among the young - but elderly women are drinking more

Source: The Telegraph
By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor
13 Feb 2015

Teetotalism has become a major force in British life for the first time since the industrial heyday of the temperance movement after a dramatic rise in the number young people shunning alcohol.

The number of under-25s opting for total abstinence from drink has leapt by 40 per cent in just eight years as young people overtake the elderly as the most sober generation.

New figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that more than a quarter of young people do not drink alcohol at all and binge drinking is also in decline.

In London, which is both the youngest and most ethnically diverse region of the UK, one in three people living is now teetotal.

Once closely associated with nonconformist Christian groups such Methodists and the Salvation Army, the rise in total abstinence has coincided with the growth of the Muslim community in Britain.

But Islam is likely only to account for a small part of the phenomenon amid a wider shift in attitudes among the young.

It follows a series of studies suggesting that the generation which came of age in the era of austerity and university tuition fees also hold more conservative views on drinking, smoking, gambling and sex than their predecessors.

Binge drinking - measured as the number of people who had a heavy drinking session in the week before the annual ONS General household Survey - fell by almost 17 per cent across the wider population between 2005 and 2013. But among young people it dropped by a third.

Only one in 50 men under 25 now drink on an almost daily basis - compared with one in 10 a decade ago.

While in 2005 elderly people were a third more likely than the young to abstain from alcohol, today the gap has disappeared altogether, with 27 per cent of both age groups now teetotal.

Although women are still significantly more likely than men to abstain from alcohol, the gap has narrowed.

Strikingly, the number men aged between their mid-40s and mid 60s turning their back on drink altogether has jumped by 38 per cent since 2005 - but among women of the same age it fell by seven per cent.

And among retired women the pattern in drinking habits is the effectively reverse of that seen across the rest of the population.

The number of women over 65 abstaining from alcohol fell by 16 per cent in relative terms between 2005 and 2013.

London, had by far the highest prevalence of teetotalism in the study, which covered mainland Britain, with 32 per cent abstaining.

The West Midlands was second with 25 per cent while the North East and South West regions of England had the lowest abstinence levels, at 17 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

"Although it is difficult to attribute regional differences to any single factor, London is the most ethnically diverse region of the UK and has a lower than average population age of just 33," the ONS noted.

"Both of these factors may play a part in London having a higher than average number of teetotallers."

It added that changing attitudes among the young could be a mark of the success of campaigns to clamp down on under age drinking when they were children.

"It is known that people who start drinking at a younger age are likely to drink more frequently, and in greater quantities, in adulthood," the ONS remarked.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said: "These results today are an encouraging sign however there is absolutely room for complacency.

"Whilst the average level of consumption has fallen, this may be in part due to the change in the ethnic make-up of the country with many people abstaining from drinking altogether.

"Data on alcohol consumption is also unreliable; many people under-report how much they drink and self-reported data on consumption does not correlate with sales data.

"Enough alcohol is sold in the UK for all consumers to be drinking above the low risk guidelines. Alcohol remains the biggest single cause of death in under-60s in the UK and globally, more alarmingly, people are dying at a far younger age.

"The overall numbers of alcohol-related deaths may be down but the numbers are still far higher than they were twenty years ago. Without effective action from government on pricing, marketing and availability, we are storing up major problems for the future."


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Scottish bars struggle as booze sales fall by up to 60 per cent following introduction of lower drink-driving limit

Source: Daily Record
By Paul O'Hare
12 February 2015

BAR sales have plummeted by up to 60 per cent following the introduction of the lower drink-driving threshold.

Purchasing firm Beacon said its customers are struggling across Scotland as a result of the new legislation.

The research comes after drink driving figures for the festive period showed a 19 per cent reduction in the number of offenders.

The law, introduced at the start of December, reduces the legal alcohol limit from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood.

The rest of the UK limit remains at 80mg - the highest in Europe.

Beacon, which works with more than 2000 businesses across the UK, also identified new trends such as smaller glass sizes and increased interest in mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks.

The firm's Scottish customers blamed the new law and poor weather for a drop in takings from 10 per cent up to a massive 60 per cent.

Tennant Hilditch, Director of Sales at Beacon, said: "The first two months of the new drink driving laws being in force have shown a real impact on the hospitality industry in Scotland.

"Traditional lunchtime drinkers, or post-golf drinkers in the clubhouse have been particularly affected by the new rules.

"So much so, that we are seeing demand for smaller glasses, weaker beers, a trend towards introducing earlier lunch sittings so guests or golfers can stay longer and do not return to the roads as quickly, as well as an increased interest in 'mocktails'."

Hilditch said the company's hotel, bar and golf club fear the downturn will also have an impact on their peak tourist periods of spring and summer holidays.

Nicki Robertson, General Manager at Best Western Woodlands Hotel in Dundee, said: "We've been hit hardest at lunchtimes, with a significant drop in bar sales down throughout December and January.

"Although our evening sales are remaining steady, we just can't charge as much for low alcohol wine or beer, and at lunchtime, we are finding that many of our guests are just enjoying a jug of tap water with their lunch.

"It's great for safety on the roads, but it puts us in the hospitality industry in a difficult position moving into the busy spring and summer seasons."

Beacon is calling on hoteliers move their check-out time later and serve lunch earlier to encourage drivers to return to the roads later.

It also suggested serving different sized glasses - such as a schooner (a two-thirds pint glass popular in Australia) - and more mocktails.

Last month we told how hard core of drink drivers continue to flout the law, according to the final set of figures for the festive period.

Twenty of the 351 motorists caught over the limit fell foul of the new, lower drink drive threshold introduced at the start of December.

The previous Christmas and New Year period saw 434 detected at wheel while under the influence.

Politicians and police said the move has saved lives.

During Road Safety Scotland's drink drive campaign, police tested 17,504 drivers.

They caught one drink driver for every 50 compared to one drink driver for every 47 last year.

An awareness campaign to coincide with the new limit warned drivers not only to be wary on a night out but also when getting behind the wheel the next morning.


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The Container That Built America

Barrels would be outmoded but for one fact: Spirits stored in them show marked improvement over time.

Source: WSJ
By Wayne Curtis
Feb. 13, 2015

In October 1901, a 63-year-old woman named Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Her vessel was 4 1/2 feet tall, 3 feet in diameter and fitted out with leather harnesses and cushions. Barrel and Box, a trade publication, took note of the stunt, suggesting that Taylor be "spanked and put to bed for taking such a foolish trip." But the journal couldn't disguise a bit of professional pride: "We are pleased with the ability of our coopers to make a barrel that will stand the racket."

As well they should have been. At the beginning of the last century, the barrel was king, found everywhere and used to ship nails, biscuits, beer, petroleum, whiskey, pickles, coins and pretty much anything else that would fit from here to there. In 1910, some 91 million barrels were made in the United States. Barrels filled boxcars and boats and horse-drawn wagons and the flatbeds of rudimentary trucks.

Wood, Whiskey and Wine
By Henry H. Work
Reaktion, 237 pages, $35

The barrel is a small miracle: something made of wood without nails or glue, which can hold liquids almost indefinitely, save for a small amount of evaporation (wood being not absolutely airtight). Barrels were ubiquitous because they were both sensible and indestructible. They are essentially a pair of intersecting arches. They're easily handled by a trained stevedore when full: Barrels roll along an edge when upright, and when on their side only a small bit touches the ground, so friction is minimal. "The barrel is really a container on wheels," noted Fred Hankerson in the "Cooperage Handbook" (1947). While utilitarian, they were also a remarkable example of craft, with talented, well-trained coopers handmaking these with simple tools well into the Industrial Age.

Sadly, since about 1910, barrels have been rolling only downhill, toward oblivion. Around that time, flour millers stopped using them in favor of sacks; manufacturers soon embraced cardboard and other lighter, less expensive containers. And then along came 55-gallon steel drums, pallets and forklifts. As Henry H. Work writes in "Wood, Whiskey and Wine: A History of Barrels," the final blow was struck in 1956, when a trucking business owner named Malcom P. McLean became determined to come up with a way to reduce delays in loading and unloading at cargo ports. He conceived the 20- and 40-foot containers that could go directly from ship to truck.

Mr. Work, an American cooper who now lives in New Zealand, tells the surprisingly complicated story of barrels in 14 somewhat erratic chapters. He begins at the beginning, making a case that wooden barrels of the sort we see today arose in the first century B.C. in the forests of Western and Central Europe. The Celts had a "craving for the elixir of the grape," he notes, and engaged in widespread trade of the same, which involved clay amphoras. But such vessels were heavy, cumbersome and fragile. Mr. Work argues that advanced Celtic tools, aided by ample hardwood forests, would have allowed the Celts to "make the long jump from tapered, multi-piece pails and buckets to enclosed barrels." Wooden artifacts from antiquity were nearly always destroyed by rot and insects, but a few early barrels preserved in bogs and tombs bolster this argument.

Constructed of wooden staves and held together with either wooden or metal hoops, barrels quickly became an essential part of trade. Romans used them in their commercial dalliances around the Mediterranean, and they were a lifeline between the thirsty English and the Bordeaux region of France from the Middle Ages on. Barrels leapt the Atlantic to become the common coin of American commerce; Ports along rivers and harbors were invariably lined with great stacks of barrels awaiting shipment or delivery, like some great glacial moraine of trade.

Barrels would have been wholly displaced today save for one lucky quirk, discovered by happenstance during centuries of transport: Spirits and wine stored in oak barrels tended to show marked improvement over time. (Where oak was not easy available, other wood proved equally useful: "Greek and Cypriot retsina wine is made in pine barrels, but these are coated on the inside to prevent leakage, which tends to give the wine its resin-like taste and thus its name," Mr. Work writes.) White oak contains elements like lactones and tannins and a phenolic aldehyde called vanillin, which gives the better bourbons those pleasingly elusive notes of vanilla. What's more, barrels are semipermeable, allowing oxygen in, and water and alcohol vapor out, and thus create controlled chemical reactions that influence flavor.

"Wood, Whiskey and Wine" is a book that needed to be written, but at times I questioned whether it's a book that needed to be read. It can be dry and plodding-have I mentioned that this is a book about barrels? The chapters on coopers and cooperages are somewhat choppy and disjointed. I would have liked more reporting on current trends, including experiments like the "honeycomb" barrels being used by some spirits makers to amplify wood flavor, or the use of smaller barrels to alter the ratio of wood to liquor. And I came across occasional departures from fact, such as the claim that bourbon has a higher sugar content than wine, and its leaky barrels are thus more prone to self-sealing.

But overall Mr. Work has done a fine job directing the spotlight toward an object that seems to beg for inattention. Although much diminished from their peak a century ago, coopers are today thriving again with American bourbon makers clamoring for new casks. (Federal regulations require that anything labeled "bourbon" be aged in new oak casks.) The number of craft spirits producers has also surged in the past decade, and barrels are suddenly in short supply. Among vintners, high-quality barrels also remain in high demand, although makers of cheaper wines have embraced workarounds, including the use of oak chips and short planks placed in stainless steel tanks. Mr. Work offers a breezy tour through all this and more.

When you reach the end of this book, I can pretty much guarantee you won't think of barrels the same way again. Next time you pass a geranium planter made from an old whiskey barrel cleaved in two at Home Depot, take a moment to pause and pay your respects. This was the container that built America.


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1792 Small Batch Bourbon Has a New Look, with the Same Great Taste

Source: Barton 1792 Distillery
February 14, 2015

Barton 1792 Distillery has proudly been distilling, aging, and bottling 1792 Small Batch Bourbon since 2002. This spring, the award - winning whiskey receives a packaging upgrade that harmonizes its look with its sophisticated flavor profile. Gone is the burlap neck wrap, white typeface, and the words "Ridgemont Reserve." In its place is a burgundy neck label with textured elements and gold borders, a new logo in gold ink, a shiny gold bottle top, and the words "Small Batch" prominently displayed above the stylistic logo on the front of the bottle.

The same heavy glass bottle is now finished with a clean and sophisticated decoration. "Many bottles in the bourbon category have quite a traditional look, but we realize some bourbon consumers are looking for something different, perhaps more contemporary," said Elizabeth Hurst, associate brand manager, bourbons. "We designed 1792 in a more modern and distinctive look which might appeal to consumers with a discerning taste for premium bourbon that want a glamorous package too."

Although the package has been upgraded, the award-winning bourbon remains exactly the same. "Nothing inside the bottle has changed. 1792 is crafted in exactly the same manner, still a well-aged, and 93.7 proof, high rye recipe bourbon made in Bardstown, Kentucky. Master Distiller Ken Pierce hand selects barrels for every batch, just as always," added Hurst. The price point for 1792 Small Batch Bourbon remains unchanged as well.

1792 Small Batch Bourbon has an expressive and elegant flavor profile, with spicy notes of rye mingled with sweet caramel and vanilla. It received gold medals in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, an "excellent/strong recommendation" in the 2013 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, and a 94.5 rating in Jim Murray's 2015 Whisky Bible.

The brand also has an upgraded website to correlate with its new look, which can be found here: http://www.1792bourbon.com/


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Drink while ye may: Feds threaten California wine imports as U.S.- Canada labelling dispute heats up

Source: Winnipeg Sun
Debora Van Brenk, QMI Agency
February 12, 2015

Canada's agriculture minister is threatening tariffs on California wine if the U.S. doesn't repeal restrictive meat-labelling laws costing our farmers billions.

The hammer strikes May 1 if mandatory country-of-origin labelling legislation isn't changed, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says.

"We import $400 million in California wines (annually)," he said this week during a stop in southwestern Ontario, one of Canada's richest farm belts and a major livestock producer.

"We've got a great wine industry right here in Ontario, so that's an easy one to target for retaliation."

Monday, the World Trade Organization will start hearing the U.S. appeal of its decision that says the labelling legislation violates trade agreements among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

The U.S. rules require store packaging identify where the animal meat was born, raised and slaughtered.

But if a pork chop started as a piglet in Canada, but was raised in the U.S., the slaughterhouse must have separate processing lines to ensure that hog will be separately labelled in the supermarket.

That's onerous, costly and time-consuming - something few slaughterhouses want or can afford, said Bill Wymenga, a Chatham-area pork farmer and vice-chair of the Canadian Pork Council.

The net effect has been to devalue Canadian meats in the U.S. costing the livestock industry more than $1 billion a year, opponents say.

Canada is looking for WTO approval to apply $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods if the labelling legislation isn't repealed.


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Truett-Hurst quarterly sales sour on wine returns

Suspends production of Paper Boy amid work on package upgrade

Source: North Bay BJ
By Jeff Quackenbush
February 11, 2015

Wine producer Truett-Hurst, Inc. (NASDAQ: THST) on Wednesday reported a second-quarter loss of $474,000, compared with $40,000 in the black a year before, partly attributable to $800,000 in loss contingency and inventory impairment from returned Paper Boy wine a national retailer claimed had spoiled.

Net sales increased 9 percent in the company's second fiscal quarter, ended Dec. 31, to $6.6 million from $6.0 million a year before. The largest proportion of sales was wholesale, which fell over the year by 19 percent, or $844,000, to $3.6 million.

The company said wholesale net sales were impacted by a $600,000 loss contingency accrual related to returns of out-of-date Paper Boy wine, packaged in bottle-shaped bag-in-box containers.

In January, a "large national retailer" told Truett-Hurst that inventory of Paper Boy on the shelf had "partially oxidized," the company said in its financial results announcement.

"Our terms of sale provide for limited rights of return only in circumstances where products are not merchantable due to quality deficiencies," the company said. "We determined that Paper Boy's shelf life met the product's quality specifications, which are consistent with those of other similar products in the market. However, on a one-time basis we agreed to work with the retailer to remove expired product. While we believe we have no contractual liability for costs associated with destruction of out-of-date inventory, we anticipate providing limited financial support to certain of our largest distributors. Finally, we have reviewed our inventory and have written off the expired Paper Boy finished goods inventory in our warehouse."

The company said it also recorded a $200,000 inventory impairment because of the incident.

Before that loss contingency, wholesale net sales had been off by only $200,000, or 5 percent, from a year before, the company said.

The Paper Boy brand was less than 8 percent of sales in fiscal 2013 and is anticipated to be about 1 percent in fiscal 2015, Phil Hurst, president and CEO, told investment analysts in a conference call Wednesday. He said the company has been working with the producer of the bag-and-paper-bottle package for the past several months - the second supplier, after the first one went bankrupt - to increase quality, and Truett-Hurst has now suspended production of Paper Boy until that is worked out.

"I'm encouraged that Truett-Hurst was able to show growth for the quarter and the first half of FY15 despite having accrued a large amount of costs for dealing with out-of-date Paper Boy product," said Mr. Hurst said in the financial-results announcement.

Truett-Hurst's direct-to-consumer quarterly sales jumped 27 over 12 months to $1.4 million. And Internet sales through The Wine Spies website virtually doubled to $1.6 million.

"Our direct to consumer and internet segments have shown very positive top line growth while continuing to expand margins," Mr. Hurst said.

Coming up this fiscal year are the launch of the California Winecraft and Sonoma Ranches brands with Kroger and start of national brands relationship with Target, he noted.


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Wine investment firm APW Asset Management enters liquidation

Source: Decanter
by Jim Budd and Chris Mercer
Friday 13 February 2015

APW Asset Management Ltd, which claims to manage £25m-worth of fine wine for clients, is set to become the latest wine investment company to go into liquidation in the UK.

A letter sent to clients and dated 10 February said that Quantuma, the company that has been managing APW Asset Management's day-to-day affairs since late last year, has decided to place the wine investment group in voluntary liquidation.

The move follows news that wine storage firm London City Bond had frozen APW Asset Management's account, because of overdue charges.

Several wine investment firms have collapsed in the UK in the past couple of years.

It is not known exactly how many clients APW has on its books or the value of its stock, but the firm claims on its website to be managing wine stocks worth an estimated £25m, with 'over 2,000 UK customer portfolios'.

'We are aware of a substantial stock of wine held at a bonded warehouse that relates to the company's operations and we have received assurances from the warehouse owner that the stock is secure and insured,' said Quantuma in its letter to creditors. A meeting for creditors has been scheduled for 5 March.

Quantuma added that no wine would be released until liquidators have completed an investigation.

APW Asset Management Ltd was set up in December 2002. It was originally called Australian Liquid Assets Ltd, changing its name to Australian Portfolio Wines (UK) Ltd in early 2003. In early 2013 the company name was changed APW Asset Management.


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Lettie Teague Takes on Ten Wine 'Truisms'

You've heard such saws as 'the higher the price, the better the wine' and 'Old World wines are better than New World wines.' But are they fact or oenofolly?

Source: WSJ
By Lettie Teague
Feb. 13, 2015

SOME PHRASES are repeated so frequently they are eventually assumed to be true. Maxims such as "high-alcohol wines aren't good" and "a great wine must be age-worthy" are just two I've heard recited by oenophiles again and again. But are they opinion or truth? I compiled a list of the 10 phrases I've heard most often and asked a few wine professionals and knowledgeable amateurs which ones they thought were closer to fiction and which should be called facts.

1. The higher the price the better the wine.

Wine marketers are responsible for this notion, said Gerald Weisl, proprietor of Weimax Wines & Spirits, a shop in Burlingame, Calif. Or perhaps it's driven by the ego of the winemaker, he added. Chris Camarda, proprietor of Andrew Will Winery in Washington state, agreed with Mr. Weisl but maintains that producers are pressured to price their wines at a certain level, lest they not be taken seriously. He told a story of a Seattle wine merchant who recommended Mr. Camarda's top wine, Sorella, to a shopper who had asked for "the best Washington state wine." But when told the bottle cost $65, the customer rejected the wine as "too cheap." It couldn't possibly be good, he said. This is one maxim I'm happy to say I've never believed. I have had truly first-rate wines that cost $25 a bottle-and less.

2. Wine is made in the vineyard.

This saying has become a favorite of seemingly every winemaker in the world. The phrase suggests that a good wine isn't a product of technical work (e.g. filtration, nonnative yeasts) but simply good fruit. When I asked superstar Napa winemaker Aaron Pott what he thought, he replied, "There is nothing more true." Of course, Mr. Pott works in a rarefied world with rarefied fruit, so no doubt it's true for him. But as Mr. Weisl wisely pointed out, "A winemaker can screw up years' worth of viticulture if he or she doesn't make good decisions in the cellar." Mistakes can come in the form of the wrong fermentation temperature or the smothering of beautiful fruit with excess oak. Perhaps a better saying might be "A good wine starts in a good vineyard."
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3. No one cares about scores or wine critics.

The oenophiles I polled were at odds over this. Ian Dorin, wine director at the Wine Library, in Springfield, N.J., thought scores were important to only a tiny segment of drinkers. "Brands are what drive people to buy wine-ratings don't really sell wines," he said. But my friend Alan, a knowledgeable and opinionated oenophile, believes that in such a highly competitive market, scores are more important than ever. Scores help distinguish one wine from another-for buyers and sellers alike. I'd say this rule is true but only for scores higher than 90 points. I can't think of a wine drinker who seeks a sub-90 point wine, or a producer likely to tout a wine with a lowly score.

4. Winemakers make wines for the critics.

Wine drinkers aren't alone in chasing high scores; conventional wisdom holds that vintners do as well. They have (ostensibly) figured out the palates of powerful critics and make wines they will like. Fiction or fact? Absolutely fact, said Mr. Camarda. "I see people making wine to fit certain critical biases," he asserted, describing a Bordeaux he tasted recently as so ripe and alcoholic, he said, it was more like an Australian Shiraz than a Bordeaux. There was no question in his mind the wine was inspired by a producer's looking to impress critics who love powerhouse wines. I think Mr. Camarda is right-but the adage holds true for only a narrow segment of the market. There is a veritable ocean of mass-market brands that doesn't seek reviews or scores. And, ultimately, pandering to critics pays off for very few winemakers. Indeed, only a tiny percentage of the world's wines are even reviewed.

5. High-alcohol wines aren't good.

A certain cadre of wine drinkers, both amateur and professional, loudly decry wines with high alcohol levels, often anything over 14%-coincidentally, the number at which wine is taxed at a higher rate in the U.S. As far as I can tell, this cadre is composed chiefly of wine bloggers (Google the words "anti high-alcohol wines," and you'll see what I mean). But the facts don't seem to support these opinions, nor do wine drinkers seem to care. The world produces and consumes an enormous quantity of wine whose alcohol content is well north of 14% (Napa Cabernets, Châteauneuf-du-Papes and wines from Spain's Priorat region, to name a few). My friend Alan calls this lower-alcohol edict "one of those self-important decrees no one in the real world pays attention to," and I think he's right. Higher-alcohol wines come from riper fruit, the result of warmer temperatures. And some of the best vintages of Bordeaux have been produced in warm years, i.e., 1947 and 1982.

6. Great wine must be age-worthy.

This has been a dictum for decades, perhaps centuries: A wine isn't truly worthy unless it improves over time. But is this true? After all, many wines are consumed with much pleasure in their youth. "Great wine is a wine that's great at the moment," Mr. Dorin opined. "It's the moment that makes the wine." I do think he has a point. Greatness is subjective: What's great to me might not be great to you. And yet a wine-typically a pricey one-that transforms with age, that not only endures but improves and evolves into something more nuanced and complex, can objectively be said to have merit. I think this saying is not only true, it has stood the test of time.

7. Old World wines are better than New World wines.

My consultants were divided on this, and even at odds with themselves. Mr. Pott thought it was both true and not, as did Mr. Camarda. A New World wine is shorthand for any wine made outside Europe: in Argentina, New Zealand, the U.S., etc. The two men gave nods to the Old World sensibility-hundreds of years of tradition, including personal engagement with the vineyard. So did my friend Alan, although he wondered what might truly be considered a New World wine in the first place, with so much new exploration, new plantings and New World winemaking technique (such as temperature-controlled fermentations) put to use in the Old World. Perhaps Mr. Camarda said it best when he answered, "It depends." Personally I think a hybrid is best: Old World sensibility matched with New World innovation makes the best wine. Although that may be a bit long for a maxim.

8. Sommeliers only like obscure wines.

If you've been to a restaurant whose sommelier has compiled a list of wines you don't recognize-and can't even identify as red or white-this seems to be an incontrovertible truth. But according to Michael Madrigale, head sommelier of Manhattan restaurants Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud, only sommeliers who want to feel superior to their customers adopt this stance. "They drive a wedge between themselves and the wine drinker," he said. While I appreciate sommeliers who are forever questing for something interesting and new (it was thanks to Mr. Madrigale that I first discovered Canadian Gamay) they do need to remember that their customers might also prefer familiar wines such as Sancerre and California Chardonnay. Mr. Madrigale includes both on his lists. Perhaps this saying should be amended to "Bad sommeliers only like obscure wine."

9. Red-wine drinkers are more sophisticated than white-wine drinkers.

The late, great English wine writer Harry Waugh declared, "The first duty of a wine is to be red." The idea that red-wine drinkers are connoisseurs rather than mere consumers has held for decades. But many wine professionals think otherwise. "If you're really into wine," said Mr. Madrigale, "it's the opposite." White wine offers a broader range of possibilities, is more versatile and is easier to drink without food. Mr. Camarda had a funny take on the fallacy. "It's because chicks drink white wine," he said jokingly, although there may indeed be a sexist perception that red wine is more important and sophisticated because it is more manly. Naturally I, and Mr. Camarda, think both this perception and the adage are false. Some of the most complex and compelling wines in the world are made from white grapes (Burgundy, Vouvray, Mosel Riesling and Champagne), and I know plenty of non-chicks who agree.

10. Wine is hard.

Is this a saying or simply a complaint? It is certainly a statement I've heard often. Despite numerous idiot's guides and self-styled wine experts who claim that wine is simple, learning and knowing about wine is challenging. Or at least it is for anyone seeking something beyond a merely consumable beverage. Wine is the study of multiple subjects simultaneously-history, geology, cartography, geography, politics, chemistry and a good bit of sociology. Anyone who claims otherwise is deliberately underplaying the complexity of the subject-or lying to you.


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The 9 types of wine you should really be drinking

Source: Business Insider
Megan Willett
Feb. 13, 2015

Any wine expert will tell you that as Americans, we rely far too much on the same kinds of wine.

We know what to expect from a Pinot Grigio, Merlot, or Malbec, but what about Vermentino, Nebbiolo, or Côtes du Rhône?

We spoke with Jeremy Block, owner of Some Good Wine in New York, about alternatives to the most common reds and whites that everyone should order.

Keep reading to see the nine wines that should replace your old stand-bys below.

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, try Spanish Garnacha (aka Grenache)

Cabernet Sauvignon is a robust red that is bursting with flavor. It's a classic option that pairs especially well with meat dishes.

But if you're looking to branch out from your classic Cabernet, Block recommends trying a wine with "that same caliber of density," such as Spanish Garnacha, also known as Grenache.

These Spanish wines are medium-bodied and spicy, with "less blackberry, more chocolate; similar richness and intensity," according to Block.

If you like Merlot, buy Nebbiolo

The classic Merlot is an easy wine to drink and is still one of the most popular varieties out there.

Block told us that the plum taste of Merlot is what draws many people to this wine. "And not just any plums, soft ones that are velvety and succulent," Block said. "Italian Nebbiolo will have that similar velvetiness.

Nebbiolo is known as a rich wine with notes of tar, blackberry and roses. The Italian wine goes well with roasted meats as well as delicious, thick tomato sauces.

If you like Pinot Noir, drink Beaujolais

"Pinot Noir is the greatest wine in the world," Block said, "but it's also the most expensive."

A good Pinot is delicate, fruity, and not at all harsh like Cabernet can be. If you want to try a similarly light red, turn to Beaujolais.

"Beaujolais has a similar light body with silky tannins, quenching red fruit, and perky acid," Block told us. "It can also be found in the low $20s most of the time."

If you like Syrah/Shiraz, try Mourvedre

Shiraz and Syrah wines are spicy, earthy, and taste best with well-seasoned steak or wild game.

For an equally flavorful wine, Block recommends trying a French Mourvedre.

"Normally a blending grape but on it's own, Mourvedre can have just as much meat and tannic structure as Syrah with more wild berries and herbs," Block said.

If you like Malbec, buy Côtes du Rhône

The dark, fruity, and black pepper-y taste of Malbec makes it such a delicious dinner wine. But if you want to try something new, Block said to turn to Côtes du Rhône.

"Côtes du Rhône is a blend from southern France, that tends to be scattered parts Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre," Block explained to us.

Block described these French wines as "medium- to full-bodied with succulent fruit and chewy tannins" and said it's easy to find a good bottle for under $20.

If you like Chardonnay, drink California Viognier

Chardonnay may be one of America's favorite wines with a buttery, creamy texture, but this oaky wine isn't the only full-bodied white to sip.

"While not quite as large and in charge, California Viognier packs on a pretty punch and will still let you live on the big side of life," Block told us.

Expect a bright, dry white wine from Viognier. Block says it has "more flowers, less butter with a similar full body concentration."

If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try Albarino

"High acid. Zest. Citrus. Picnic in the park. This is what Sauvignon Blanc is all about," Block said.

If you're looking for that same light, citrusy taste, give the northeastern Spanish wine Albarino a try.

Block told us this wine is "a little more exotic with apricots and peaches, plus a tiny, tiny spritz that you won't even notice." Sounds delicious and refreshing.

If you like Riesling, buy Vouvray

For those who like Riesling, chances are you have a sweet tooth. To switch it up, Block said that Vouvray is a great alternative.

This usually German wine has "a little more body than your average Riesling," according to Block. Though he did say there are a few differences.

"Vouvray floats in your mouth when Riesling pops," he said. "Vouvray is more orange, nuts and marzipan. Riesling is all about the minerality, apricots and melon." But it will be just as sweet.

If you like Pinot Grigio, drink Vermentino

Most sommeliers think we all drink way too much Pinot Grigio.

"Ask any wine professional what their favorite wine is not to sell you and it will 99% be Pinot Grigio," Block said. "It's popularity is a 'travesty for the wine world.'

There are plenty of other great Italian white wines to try, such as Vermentino. It's light, fresh, and similarly acidic with ctrus notes and a slight nuttiness that's distinctly Italian.

If you like Gewürztraminer, try Muscat

"There is nothing quite like Gewürztraminer," Block told us, with its "succulent smells of lychees, orange peel, and bunt sugar."

Except Muscat.

This under-the-radar white wine comes from the Alsace region and is known for its ripe, rich scent. If you're looking to branch out in your white wine drinking, give Muscat a taste.


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2005 red bordeaux

Source: FT
Jancis Robinson
February 13th

The most impressive thing about the 2005 bordeaux vintage is how consistently exciting it is'

It's not often that tasting 70 powerful red wines energises me but the recent showing of 2005 red bordeaux 10 years on, organised by London fine wine trader Bordeaux Index, was a joy.

This is surely Bordeaux's best vintage of the century so far. The 2005s were always chock full of everything - fruit, acidity, colour and tannin - and the worry was that, thanks to red bordeaux's tendency to close up for a few midlife years, they could now be showing so much tannin that they would be too tough to taste at this stage. But, in fact, it did not prove a painful experience, just slightly frustrating as I thought only one of the 70 wines was already broachable, one of the cheapest, Château Poujeaux. And most of them tasted as though they should probably not be opened much before 2020, particularly those on the left bank, although a couple of the first growths, Chx Lafite and Cheval Blanc, are so charming that they give the impression that they could be enjoyed within three or four years - even though they will probably last for decades.

When I taste wine I try to suggest a window during which it will probably be sensible to drink it. I think many of these wines will still be going strong mid-century. In general there is such great balance, even if the resolution of the tannins varies enormously from wine to wine. If I owned some Ch Pavie 2005, for instance, I wouldn't think of opening it until 2030, although I'm not sure I'd choose this super-concentrated, tannic wine to celebrate my 80th. Many other right bank wines, on the other hand, those from St-Emilion and Pomerol, tasted as though they might start to provide pleasure from around 2018 - but the stunningly brooding Ch Eglise Clinet is probably best kept until the next decade.

It would be difficult to argue that 2005 is either a left bank or a right bank vintage. Both have their stars even if winemaking exaggerations are more evident on the right bank. This phenomenon has been lessening, however.

The most impressive thing about this vintage, particularly when compared with the other "vintages of the century", 2009 and 2010, is how consistently exciting it is, although admittedly our tasting included most of the finest wines - all the first growths and most of the prominent classed growths. There were only 10 wines selling at under £400 a dozen in bond (which equates to about £50 a bottle on a UK shelf) but these "lesser" wines were also extremely good.

Yes, there is a major drawback with this vintage. For many châteaux it is the most expensive vintage of this century, although at least - unlike the similarly expensive 2009 and 2010 vintages - the wines have benefited from a considerable period of valuable ageing in bottle. Most first growths are currently trading for about £4,000 to £6,500 a dozen, with the Pomerol micro châteaux Le Pin and Petrus commanding multiples of these eye-watering prices.

In view of this, it was good of Bordeaux Index to fill in the most obvious gaps in the line-up when château-owners declined to supply two bottles for this tasting for the press and Bordeaux Index's best customers. This involved tracking down bottles of Lafite from Asia, a magnificent magnum of Haut-Brion, and bottles of La Mission Haut-Brion, Margaux and Latour. We were not able to taste the usually stunning Vieux Château Certan 2005 because there is apparently not a single bottle left at the property, with a similar story at its neighbour Lafleur, which proved impossible to source on the market. Bruno Borie of Ducru-Beaucaillou declined to participate so we didn't taste his St-Julien either.

When I look at the prices of the top wines, Cos d'Estournel at "just" £1,400 a dozen looks like a bargain relative to the first growths, for it is at least as good as some of them.

The last time I tasted a major range of 2005s was six years ago when, over three days, I tasted 200 of them blind. At Bordeaux Index all the labels were on show, which may help to explain why some wines seemed to show better now than in 2009. Ch Figeac is a case in point, although this St-Emilion is a notorious underperformer at primeur tastings, its old owner refusing to play the game of presenting flattering samples of his young wine. Two Pessac-Léognans were also more beguiling recently than when tasted blind in 2009. They were the slow-to-develop Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly, which usually shows well but seemed a little mean when tasted blind five years ago. Montrose also looked more impressive than it had done blind.

I gave a much-improved score to the modest Ch Poujeaux too, partly because it was so much more evolved, especially aromatically, than most of the wines. This could be a good buy for drinking but would be no good for those who wish to retain the option of selling some eventually. You really need a classed growth rather than a cru bourgeois to play in the saleroom. The best value I found among the classed growths was Gruaud Larose, a solid St-Julien offering more complexity and pleasure than wines selling at more than its current approximate price of £540 a dozen in bond.

Very few wines showed worse last month than they had done when tasted blind six years before - hardly surprising since blind tasting is an unforgiving activity. Ch d'Armailhac from the Mouton stable seemed a little less glamorous than when tasted blind, as did its counterpart and neighbour from the Lafite Rothschilds Ch Duhart Milon, whose 2005 has always shone. It's just a shame its price has been inflated by China's love affair with all things Lafite-related.

I took note of the alcohol levels on the labels. Admittedly, there is at least 0.5 per cent tolerance so these stated percentages should not be taken too literally. But it interested me that all the left bank wines tasted claimed to be 13 or 13.5 per cent (with most first growths at 13) except for Chx Palmer, Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, for which 14 or 14.5 per cent was stated. Most right bank wines carried 14 or 14.5 per cent on their labels except for the less potent Chx Clinet, La Conseillante, Figeac, Gazin, Magdelaine, Providence and Trotanoy.

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com


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Bordeaux 2013 'more like Burgundy'

Source: the drinks business
by Lucy Shaw
13th February, 2015

Hubert de Boüard, owner of Château Angelus, has admitted that the 2013 vintage was incredibly unusual for Bordeaux, resulting in wines that are Burgundian in character.

Speaking during a vertical tasting of Angelus in London put on by the Institute of Masters of Wine, de Boüard said: "I call my 2013 vintage my Côtes de Nuits as the wine is more like a Burgundy than a Bordeaux.

"The vintage was very special and unusual. The resulting wines are very elegant but in my 30 years at Angelus I've never made a wine like it before.

"I was determined to make a 2013 vintage, as it would have been a shame not to bottle anything. The key to success was in the grape selection.

"Angelus 2013 spent just 17 months in barrel as opposed to the usual 22. We bottled the wine in June for the first time in 20 years."

de Boüard explained that a new style of Bordeaux was emerging, with winemakers striving to achieve less obvious, more approachable tannins.

"It's not the size of the tannins but the quality of them that helps a wine age," he said.

He also stressed the importance of the grand vin at Angelus, and a desire to make as much of it as possible each year.

"Around 80-85% of the grapes we harvest each year go into the grand vin. We go big on it at the estate. The only exception was 2013, when we only used around 50%.

"In order to keep the quality of the wine we had to drop the quantity," he said.

During the tasting, de Boüard spoke of his love of Cabernet Franc, and how the grape had become something of a signature for Angelus.

"Cabernet Franc is the most difficult grape variety to grow in Bordeaux and the vines need to be at least 25 years old to show any character," he said.

"It's sensitive to rain and mildew and is a very finicky variety to grow but when made well the wines taste like cashmere in your mouth and give a freshness and a spiciness to the blend," he added.


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The concept is simple: wine + ice cream. Wine Ice Cream

Source: KXAN
By Judy Hong
February 13, 2015

Combine the creamy taste of ice cream with your favorite flavor of wine, and there you have it - Wine Ice Cream. It's a delicacy you may not have known about, and just in time for Valentine's Day, it's up for grabs at a few spots in Austin. Mercer's Ice Cream in New York has fused the two treats and expanded them across 15 countries and 21 states in the last six years. Roxaina Hurlburt, the owner of Mercer's Ice Cream, not only overlooks the management of her store in New York, but constantly invents flavors and comes up with new ideas.

"We love what we do here," Hurlburt says. "We work really hard every day and continue to put out special flavors as much as we can."

Mercer's Ice Cream has been making ice cream for over 60 years and got the idea of mixing wine and ice cream in 2004, when they tried topping vanilla ice cream with wine and received positive feedback. Wine ice cream was introduced in 2007 at The Great American Dessert Expo, where they won "Best New Product." Austin locations started selling Mercer's wine ice cream in 2012.

Wine ice cream comes in eight different flavors: peach white zinfandel, cherry Merlot, strawberry sparkling, port, Riesling, spice, chocolate Cabernet, and red raspberry chardonnay. There is 5 percent alcohol content, along with a 15 percent butterfat product for the creamy texture. There are no other known wine ice creams yet, but Hurlburt says that "imitation is the greatest form of flattery" and welcomes innovations in this under-exposed field of the ice cream business.

You can find the wine ice cream at Spec's in Arbor Walk, Brodie Lane and Bee Cave. Hurlburt is already rolling out new creations, and her first line of Champagne ice cream is coming soon.


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Gene-Altered Apples Get U.S. Approval

Source: NY Times
By ANDREW POLLACK
FEB. 13, 2015

The government on Friday approved the commercial planting of genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised.

The developer, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says it believes the nonbrowning feature will be popular with both consumers and food service companies because it will make sliced apples more appealing. The feature could also reduce the number of apples discarded because of bruising.

But many executives in the apple industry say they worry that the biotech apples, while safe to eat, will face opposition from some consumers, possibly tainting the wholesome image of the fruit that reputedly "keeps the doctor away." They are also concerned that it could hurt exports of apples to countries that do not like genetically modified foods.

"In the marketplace we participate in, there doesn't seem to be room for genetically modified apples now," said John Rice, co-owner of Rice Fruit Company in Gardners, Pa., which bills itself as the largest apple packer in the East.

The Department of Agriculture, which approved the apples for commercial planting, said on Friday that it had considered these issues. However, it said that under the law, approval is based on whether a genetically modified crop poses a threat to other plants. The department determined that the apples posed no such risk.

The so-called Arctic apples - which will be available in the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties - are genetically engineered in a way to suppress the production of an enzyme that causes browning when cells in the apple are injured, from slicing, for example.

But over time the apples will still rot and turn brown. In November, the Agriculture Department approved a genetically engineered potato developed by the J.R. Simplot Company that uses a similar technique to prevent browning.

The apple will join relatively few other examples of genetically modified fresh produce, including papaya and some sweet corn. Most of the genetically modified food Americans eat is processed, containing ingredients made from engineered corn or soybeans.

The engineered trait is also one of the few meant to appeal to consumers; most of the traits so far, like insect resistance and herbicide resistance, have been aimed at helping farmers.

The approval is also unusual in that Okanagan, which is based in Summerland, British Columbia, is a small company. Most genetically modified crops are developed by giant seed and chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer.

Neal Carter, the president of Okanagan, said the apple had "a lot of silent supporters" and would be popular with the food service business. "I can't believe how many requests we've had just this morning to our website from people who want to buy trees," he said. The roughly 45 investors in the privately held company include many people in the apple business, he said.

It will take a few years for Arctic apples to be widely available because trees have to first be planted and then become mature enough to bear fruit.

Mr. Carter said that four growers would plant a total of 20,000 trees this spring, covering a mere 20 acres or so. From 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of apples are expected to be ready by the fall of 2016, enough to provide samples to food service companies and other potential buyers. The product could reach stores, in very small quantities, in 2017, he said.

Documents released by the Agriculture Department on Friday suggest the decision to approve was essentially made last May. Mr. Carter said he thought political factors had kept the approval from being announced. He said the company, which had initially requested approval in 2010, finally became so frustrated that it wrote a pointed letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last month.

A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said it took time to analyze the issues and all the comments received. There were two public comment periods that together drew more than 175,000 comments, the overwhelming majority opposed to approval.

Consumer and environmental groups, who say that genetically modified crops in general are not thoroughly tested for safety, were highly critical of the decision on Friday.

"This G.M.O. apple is simply unnecessary," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement, using the initials for "genetically modified organism." "Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations."

(Putting lemon juice or another source of vitamin C on apple slices can retard browning, though Okanagan argues that affects the taste.)

The environmental groups have been pressing food companies to reject the Arctic apples. McDonald's and Gerber have sent letters saying they had no plans to use the apples. The groups also renewed their call for genetically modified foods to be labeled as such.

Mr. Carter said apples would be labeled as Arctic, with links to the company's website, so consumers could figure out that the fruit was engineered. He said it would discuss with the Food and Drug Administration whether the apples would also be labeled as nonbrowning. But he said that labeling the fruit as genetically modified would only be "demonizing" it.

The nonbrowning effect is not created by putting genes from another species into the apple's DNA, which is the case with most genetically altered crops. Instead, the apple's own genes are manipulated in a way that turns off the browning mechanism.

Okanagan is still engaged in a voluntary consultation with the F.D.A. over the safety of the apple. Consumer groups say shutting off the browning mechanism could have unintended effects. But the Agriculture Department said the Arctic apples seemed to be nutritionally equivalent to other apples.

While many in the apple industry had opposed the approval, some now say they will work to ensure that consumers know most apples are not modified and even the ones that are modified are safe.

"That clear identification of the Arctic brand will help consumers make clear, informed choices if Okanagan apples do become available in stores in a few years," Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the U.S. Apple Association, said in an email.


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Tesco tells suppliers to cut prices or face axe

Source: OLN
By Rosie Davenport
13 February, 2015

Suppliers have accused Tesco of making unreasonable demands after the supermarket told them to cut prices or make additional investments to keep listings.

Tensions with the supply base have intensified after Tesco drafted in management consultants to review its offer across every category. This has resulted in a decision to drop a third of its drinks range.

Tesco buyers have been discussing the cull with producers over the last few months, and many have contacted OLN claiming to have been asked to accept significant price cuts or make extra investments to keep listings.

In one case, a supplier said Tesco approached it before Christmas demanding price cuts because it had heard that the company had "enjoyed lower input costs and was paying less for raw ingredients".

The supplier said that when it challenged Tesco, the supermarket was unable to provide evidence of the savings it was allegedly making.

Another supplier said it felt pressured during a meeting in which Tesco disclosed it would be making significant range cuts. The producer added: "The [suggested new] cost price was much lower than the current price and [I was given] a date when that would come into effect. In the same exchanges, Tesco also identified that there would be a reduction in the numbers of products stocked in that category in 2015 with an obvious link identified between that range review and the price reduction it was seeking agreement to."

A Tesco spokesperson declined to comment.

Tesco did contact suppliers in January to remind them about its Tesco Supplier Protector Line, a confidential way for whistleblowers in stores and in supplier businesses to report inappropriate practices.

But another leading supplier said: "Tesco hasn't learnt anything. It says it wants to clean up its image, but there are always requests for things. Nobody wants to speak out because they are scared. People want the business because losing it could mean the end."

Other suppliers suggest Tesco's buying team has become unsettled by fears that the range cut could lead to redundancies.

Last week, industry watchdog the Groceries Code Adjudicator announced it was launching a formal investigation into the retailer's practices after last year's accounts scandal.

It comes five months after Tesco launched its own internal inquiry and suspended senior executives including head of BWS Dan Jago.


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Morrisons joins Tesco in cutting wine range

Source: OLN
By Rosie Davenport
13 February, 2015

Morrisons has become the second of the big supermarkets to slash its wine range as it cuts slow-selling lines and declutters shelves, OLN has learned.

The retailer will cull 10% of its range, following in the footsteps of Tesco, which will delist 30% of its offering.

Mark Jarman, head of wine operations at Morrisons, told OLN: "In response to customer insight, we are focusing on improving the clarity of our wine offer to make it easier for our shoppers to navigate the fixture.

"This will result in a reduction in SKU numbers of around 10% and will be achieved by removing duplication and poorly performing lines.

"This will ensure we continue to give our customers great choice as well as fantastic value and quality."

Tesco confirmed it was making even bigger cuts after it employed management consultants to review its range.

A Tesco spokesman said: "Following feedback from customers, we simplified our in store range to make the shopping experience more straightforward.

"As part of this process, we have ensured our most popular wines have more space on the shelves."

Wine suppliers have warned the cutbacks will have significant ramifications for the trade.

The head of one leading wine firm said: "There is going to be a huge fallout as a result of this.

"I don't think the wine trade is ready for the colossal changes ahead.

"The fact is, all the grocers are looking at the same model and will probably do the same eventually.

"The discounters have shown that you don't have to have big ranges to keep consumers happy."

Another senior figure said: "The days of wallpapering shelves with lots of brands which basically all do the same thing are gone. The grocers have a stated aim of thinning the shelves out, which is welcomed by consumers.

"But it will be difficult for some companies, because if you're in, then it's fine, but if you're out, you're going to feel it."


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Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. (RRGB.O)

4Q14 Post Call: Traffic Turns from Red to Black

Source: Morgan Stanley
FEBRUARY 13, 2015 GMT

RRGB beat our EPS expectations (though missed consensus) on strong 3.6% comps and a return to positive traffic. Earlier marketing missteps appear to be remedied. Top-line momentum likely continues into '15 given remodels, tablet roll-out, and a better macro.

Yes, headline 4Q EPS was a slight miss vs consensus, but the difference stemmed from higher G&A spend while key value driving metrics relating to SSS, store margin and development were all in line or better than expected. Traffic gains (+1.2%, + 160 bps better than industry) were particularly impressive. Increased remodeling activity, a Ziosk tablet system rolling out later in the year and macro tailwinds should continue to drive sales in '15, but flattish restaurant margins and increased D&A will keep '15 EPS growth to 15%, in our view.

Key take-aways: 1.) RRGB's 4Q14 EPS of $0.66 (+6% Y/Y) beat MS ests by 1c on a better than expected comp (+60bps) but missed consensus of 69c. We think the variance was G&A, which ran about $1.6M higher than expected as well as higher than expected taxes. On the hand, labor was managed better than expected given recent wage pressure. As a reminder, RRGB EPS is very sensitive given only 14.5M shares outstanding (a 1% increase in comp = 34c annually, 10 bp change in RLM = 8c and ~$145k in pre-tax income = 1c, hence significant quarterly EPS volatility). 2.)Traffic was not only positive, but its gap to industry flipped positive as well (+160bps gap to black box in 4Q14 vs -110bps in Q3 and -40bps in Q, so this Q was just not about a better macro or lower gas prices but also execution. 3.)While mgmt does not provide EPS guidance, FY15 outlook was provided for the first time, with expectations for 2-3% SSS, 12-13% revenue growth and at least 21.4% RLM (+10bps Y/Y). D&A will increase to $77M (+19% Y/Y) due to accelerated remodels and acquired restaurants. RRGB expects to open 20 new Red Robins + 5 Burger Works in FY15. 4.)RRGB had 104 fully completed remodels by end of FY14 (added ~20bps to FY14 comp) and are seeing a 3-4% lift on average . Mgmt expects to complete another 125 remodels in FY15 (adding ~1% to overall comp in '15) with all of company stores targed by end of FY16 and franchised by FY17. 5.) Ziosk roll out announced and targeted for a 2H15, enabling gaming revenue, pay at the table, and guest feedback tools initially, more functionality added over time. This sets up as a comp driver for '16. 5.)Recent franchise acquisitions continue to weigh on RLM, impacting 4Q14 by ~90bps (4Q14 RLM would have been 22.2% ex acquisitions) vs only 60bps impact in 3Q14, as acquired restaurants have lower AUVs and 12-13% average RLM. Mgmt sees a 400bps margin opportunity for US acquisitions (200bps COGS + 200bps Labor) as BTI is applied, but less opportunity in Canada given inherently higher cost structure.

Changes to our model: We are lowering FY15 EPS to $3.09 (from $3.24 prior) and FY16 EPS to $3.54 (from $3.79 prior) on higher D&A assumptions than we had previously modeled. PT to $78 on 22x FY16 EPS.


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Altamont Capital buys Cotton Patch Café

Deal to support 45-unit chain's "next phase of growth"

Source: NRN
Ron Ruggless
Feb 13, 2015

Altamont Capital Partners has acquired Cotton Patch Cafe LLC, a 45-unit casual-dining restaurant with locations in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, the companies said Friday.

Terms of the deal between Palo Alto, Calif.-based Altamont and Grapevine, Texas-based Cotton Patch were not disclosed.

"Cotton Patch has been successful through its focus on value, high-quality food, Southern hospitality and the local community around each restaurant," Jonathan Altman, a principal in Altamont, said in a statement.

He added that Altamont was eager "to support the management team throughout the company's next phase of growth."

Kathy Nelson will continue in the role of Cotton Patch CEO, and also invested in the Altamont transaction, the companies said.

"We look forward to building on Cotton Patch's strong legacy and see attractive opportunities to expand the concept both in existing and adjacent markets," said Nelson, who has worked in leadership positions at Pizza Hut, Pillsbury and General Mills.

Cotton Patch, found in 1989, is known for its menu of Southern-influenced fare, including fried pickle appetizers, $5.49, fried catfish with hushpuppies, $10.99, and Dr Pepper Chocolate Cake, $4.49. A popular long-running promotion is the Monday night special of chicken-fried steak or chicken-fried chicken, for $7.99.

"We believe there are many customers that would appreciate our quality, scratch-made Southern food offered at a value price," Nelson said. "Altamont's experience in the restaurant industry will be a great resource in helping us execute the company's plans."

In 2014, Cotton Patch opened new restaurants in the Texas cities of Athens, Grapevine and Greenville. The concept was founded in Nacogdoches, Texas, by Larry Marshall and Michael Patranella.

"The idea behind the first Cotton Patch Cafe was to create a local restaurant that offered great food made from scratch, served by caring folks who are part of your community," the founders said in a statement. "That culture still holds true 25 years later, and we are confident that Altamont is the right partner to help bring it to many more communities in the future."

Randall Eason, co-founder and managing director of Altamont Capital, said in an email that "we are excited to be partnering with an excellent management team that is passionate about continuing to grow the brand within Cotton Patch's core Dallas market, throughout Central and Southern Texas, and in other nearby states."

Eason said Altamont focuses on restaurant concepts with strong unit economics, a value proposition, high-caliber management teams and "significant white-space growth opportunity, regardless of the dining segment."

Altamont Capital ranked No. 123 in the 2014 Nation's Restaurant News Second 100 report, with a reported $277 million in annual revenue for the December 2013-ended fiscal year. That revenue included Tacala Cos., which franchises Taco Bell, and Boom Holdings Inc., which franchises Sonic Drive-In.

In mid-December 2013, Altamont Capital acquired Austaco Ltd. of Austin, Texas, with 80 Taco Bell and Taco Bell-KFC restaurants, for an unspecified amount, giving the company a total of 255 Taco Bell and related co-branded restaurants in seven states, and 65 Sonic locations in four states.

Altamont sad it recently appointed K.C. Moylan as an operating partner to focus on investments in the restaurant sector. Moylan previously served as president of the P.F. Chang's China Bistro-owned Pei Wei Asian Diner, managing director of Cardinal Capital Management LLC, and president and CEO of Champps America.

Piper Jaffray & Co. and Locke Lord LLP advised Cotton Patch in the deal. Ropes & Gray LLP advised and represented Altamont.


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7 factors consumers consider when choosing a restaurant

Source: NRA
February 13, 2015

For consumers, choosing where to eat is a complex decision. Today's diners are concerned about the quality of the food they're eating, but they're also looking at factors beyond food, like technology and a restaurant's environmental impact.

Here are seven things consumers take into account when choosing a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast:

Healthier options: More diners are looking for healthful options when they dine out, and restaurants are responding to that demand. More than eight in 10 restaurants say their guests are paying more attention to the nutrition content of their food today than they were two years ago. Diners are also seeing more options from restaurants, and 81 percent of adults say restaurants offer more healthful options than they did two years ago.

Eco-friendly dining: When they choose a restaurant, many consumers are thinking about the earth as much as their palates. Nearly two-thirds of consumers say they're likely to consider a restaurant's eco-friendly practices when they decide where to eat.

Technology: The number of consumers who say technology options like smartphone apps or self-service kiosks are an important factor in choosing restaurants is on the rise, up to about 25 percent from roughly 20 percent a year ago. The increase spans generations, with older and younger customers alike expanding their use.

Quality, innovative food: Nine out of 10 consumers say food quality is an important factor in choosing a restaurant, and six in 10 claim to be more adventurous diners than they were two years ago. More than half are looking for innovative meals that they can't make at home.

Local foods: Locally sourced meats and seafood and produce were near the top of the list of the NRA's Top 25 lists of 2015 tableservice and limited-service menu trends. Find out what else is on the list, including trends in breakfast, appetizers, desserts and classic favorites.

Ethnic cuisine: When diners crave ethnic foods, odds are they're heading for a restaurant. More than two-thirds of consumers say they're more likely to order ethnic foods at a restaurant rather than trying to cook it at home.

Mobile options: More consumers are buying from food trucks. This year, 47 percent reported patronizing a food truck, up from 40 percent last year. And 70 percent of all adults say they'd buy from a food truck if their favorite restaurant had one.


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Arizona: Bill may brew trouble for local microbreweries

Source: Yuma Sun
Friday, February 13, 2015

The owners of Prison Hill Brewing Company (PHBC) in Yuma are carefully watching the progression of two opposing state bills, one of which could impact the independence of the local company in years to come.

The first bill is SB 1030, "The Arizona Beer Bill," which would allow microbreweries to continue operating up to seven restaurants and bars already open for business even if the company produces more than 40,000 barrels of beer annually, which equals about 1.2 million gallons. For context, PHBC expects to produce about 23 to 32 barrels in 2015, about 700 gallons to 1,000 gallons of beer, respectively.

Forty thousand barrels is the current limit for what constitutes microbreweries in Arizona, which enjoy special privileges not offered to multinational beer corporations, including the ability to own and operate bars and restaurants.

The second bill is SB 1437, "A Better Approach to Support Microbrewers," which would raise the cap on what a microbrewer could produce up to 160,000 barrels a year - four times the current limit. But if a brewer were to reach the new mark, it would have to give up operating its own bars and restaurants - a new requirement included in the bill.

"For microbreweries, if you don't have a place to showcase your product, then you are going right to the distributors, and that is a bad thing," PHBC brew master Chris Wheeler told the Yuma Sun. "You lose a little bit of the control of your product."

Currently, beer companies producing more than 40,000 barrels annually must use third party distributors to transfer their product to customers as opposed to simply selling their beer directly to the consumer at a company owned and operated bar or restaurant, as PHBC currently does at its headquarters on Main Street.

Most beer companies - including SABMiller plc, which sells Coors and Miller products; and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which sells Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois - face this prohibition in Arizona. This forces retailers, bars and restaurants who want to sell these products to buy from distributors.

According to Capitol Media Services, 30-years ago, lawmakers agreed to give microbrewers an avenue to avoid distributors altogether. This gave them an edge against larger established corporations by allowing them to have their own bars and restaurants, a move designed to let them build a demand for their products. Microbreweries can also sell some of their product directly to others under the presumption that distributors might not handle them due to their small output.

"If we didn't have the sort of small advantages that we do," Wheeler said, "we wouldn't be able to have our restaurants. We wouldn't be able to be the employers. We wouldn't be able to produce even remotely competitively with 'big beer.'"

SB 1437 - which is supported by the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association - is unacceptable to the 57 microbrewers in the state, including PHBC, Wheeler said. In contrast, SB 1030 is supported by the Arizona Craft Builders Guild, of which PHBC is a member.

"Obviously 1030 is a compromise, but it is a good compromise," Wheeler remarked. "It lets breweries like us do what we need to do. It gives us the ability to grow and put our product forward so people can see it without this undo burden. It doesn't pigeonhole us in terms of expansion."

On the other hand, SB 1437 "would definitely hurt us in terms of what we are doing," he continued. "Yes, it raised the cap" on how much beer can be produced, "but for somebody like me that is looking at possible additional locations," the bill "would make that more difficult."

Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association lobbyist Don Isaacson told Capitol Media Services recently that SB 1030 is really all about one company, Four Peaks Brewing Co., which is approaching the 40,000 barrel cap. Absent a change in law, it would have to give up its outlets.

Isaacson said the preferable solution is to raise the cap through the adoption of SB 1437, because that would address the Four Peaks issue and ensure that, at some point, microbrewers give up their bars and restaurants, a privilege that is not available to other producers.

"The only people it is going to affect at this point is Four Peaks Brewery, because they are so far ahead of the game from everybody else," Wheeler added.

But someday, if all goes well, PHBC may itself reach or surpass that threshold.

"We don't even approach the cap and will not approach the cap for a while," but "never say never."

And while SB 1437 wouldn't immediately affect PHBC, it could set the stage for additional laws which might, Wheeler added.

"We have shared ownership between (PHBC) and the Pint House, so it could affect us if we decided to self-distribute into the Pint House. It is a slippery slope. If you have multiple locations that aren't 'tasting rooms,' but you go in the other bars - at some point they may try to prohibit us form distributing to ourselves that way, and we might have to divest our interest in that. That would be horrible."

Wheeler believes out of state interests are pushing for SB 1437.

"You have to look at what their intentions are," he said. "Are they looking to just completely isolate you? For me, it is a money game. You look at it and follow the money. They claim they are local because they incorporated in Arizona, but that is not where the money is coming from."

And "we've got support," he continued. "The Brewers Guild and the people pushing the Arizona Beer Bill have support of the major distributors in Arizona," while those who endorse the opposing bill have "a very small faction" of supporters.
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