Retail roundup The Sunday papers
March trading figures add to UK retail gloom, Beer chiefs warn of 'devastating effect' of Budget, Findus goes on £1bn seafood spree, Arsenic and toxic metals found in baby foods, HMV's investors won't back a rights issue, Urban Outfitters defies high street gloom, Primark looks to break into new territory, Avons splash of colour, Aquascutum may leave Regent Street premises, B&Q to teach DIY
The number of people shopping on the high street in March fell by 7pc compared to the year before, according to stark new figures. Over the first quarter of 2011, there were 4.8pc fewer shoppers than over the same period the year in 2010, underlying just how badly the consumer economy has been hit by squeezed household budgets. The figures are from Synovate Retail Performance, which uses sensors to count customer traffic in thousands of shops across the UK. March was a terrible month on the high street. Consumers reined in their spending to preserve cash in the face of rising food and fuel prices. Increased cotton prices and January's VAT rise from 17.5pc to 20pc have added to price rises in shops, further discouraging Britons from spending. A raft of retailers including Dixons Retail, Clinton Cards and Carpetright have issued profits warnings and retail bosses say the gloom will last throughout the year.
The heads of Britain's biggest brewers and pub landlords have demanded the Chancellor reconsider the tax "onslaught" he is accused of waging against the industry in last month's Budget amid fears of 10,000 job losses over the next 12 months. The executives – including Ted Tuppen of Enterprise Inns, Jeremy Blood of Mitchells & Butlers and Ralph Findlay of Marston's – warn George Osborne that continued increases in beer duty do not bring in as much revenue as first estimated, while hurting an industry that is predominantly UK-based. The company chiefs argue that the continuation of the beer duty escalator – the so-called "booze tax" – amounts to a 7.2pc tax rise and is at odds with Mr Osborne's claims that his Budget focused on promoting growth and delivering new jobs in the private sector.
Findus Group, the private-equity owned seafood and frozen food giant, is in talks with its bankers to create a £1bn acquisition war chest. The company, backed by Lion Capital, is understood to have spoken to its syndicate of banks about resetting its covenants to allow it headroom to go on the acquisition trail. The aim of the reset, which is believed to have been the subject of a presentation to the banks last week, is to give the company more financial flexibility with the long-term aim of bolstering the group's assets and potential.
Baby foods used to wean infants off milk have been found to contain "alarming" levels of toxic contaminants including arsenic, lead and cadmium. Last night there were calls for urgent new safety rules to control the presence of the poisons in foods intended for young children. The findings come as officials at the Food Standards Agency and the European Commission are conducting an urgent review to establish new limits for the long term exposure of these contaminants in food. The products tested by the researchers were made by major baby food manufacturers including Organix, Hipp, Nestle and Holle - some of which are available in British supermarkets.
HMV faces a shareholder boycott if it launches a rescue rights issue to plug a gaping hole its balance sheet. The struggling music and book retailer last week issued its third profit warning since January, heightening concern about its prospects. Without a capital injection from investors, HMV must rely on raising cash via asset sales, as well as shutting stores and offloading expensive high-street leases. Advisers to HMV have told chief executive Simon Fox that a rights call, which asks investors to buy new shares, would be difficult to pull off because of worries about the group's long-term future.
Independent on Sunday
Two US retail brands plan to expand on the UK high street despite the slowdown in consumer spending. Urban Outfitters – with a market capitalisation of $4.9bn (£3bn) – said it will double the number of stores it has in Britain and bring new brands to our streets. And, last week, the American designer brand Ralph Lauren signed up to bring its vintage-inspired menswear brand RRL to London.
Primark is set to open its first shop in a retail park. The value fashion chain is in talks with Pete Winkelman, record producer turned football club chairman, to open a store at a development close to the Milton Keynes football stadium. Aviva Investors forward-funded the 240,000 sq ft retail park, which will be anchored by a Marks & Spencer and is due to open next year. Primark normally focuses on the high street and shopping centres.
Mail on Sunday
Avon is to launch a range of hair dye as austerity-hit consumers adopt a DIY approach to their lives. The firm said the market for hair colourants in 2011 could reach an estimated £283 million. Supermarkets have seen sales of hair dye soar since the start of the downturn.
Fashion chain Aquascutum may quit its iconic Regent Street store as part of a restructuring plan. The proposed move is part of a series of changes to the business since it was acquired by Jaeger owner Harold Tillman less than two years ago.
B&Q is preparing to launch a massive plan to educate the DIY illiterate and boost sales over the forthcoming two double bank holiday weekends. From next week the chain will offer weekend DIY classes in all of its stores to encourage consumers to learn a range of skills.
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