Je m'excuse: Andy Street © Bloomberg
France is economically doomed and no place for an entrepreneur. “Nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.” If this is what Andy Street is like at a public engagement, just imagine how dreary he’d be on a home counties golf course. It’s like being bashed around the head with a ringbinder full of Economist back issues.
Piqued by a bad Eurostar journey, the managing director of the leading UK retailer John Lewis morphed into John Bull at an awards event for start-ups in London on Wednesday. Such events can have an aphrodisiac effect on middle-aged executives running staid businesses. But what has John Lewis done recently to give it the right to appropriate the rock star smugness exhibited by many modern entrepreneurs? Read more
Shuanghui sausages on display at a Beijing supermarket
First Alibaba, then Watson, now WH Group. The decision from the world’s top pork producer – with dominant businesses in China, the US and much of Europe – to ditch its initial public offering in Hong Kong is not just a blow to the company, which must now fork out millions in extra debt service costs, but also to the city itself. Having started the year with four possible blockbuster deals, Hong Kong will be lucky now to get even one.
The first blow came in January, when Hong Kong Electric – a spin-off by Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong – chose to slash the size of its deal on tepid demand. Even the smaller deal was tough – getting it over the line was a ‘near-death experience’ according to those familiar with the sale. Investors just weren’t convinced.
Oral haptics – more simply known as “mouthfeel” – is one of the food industry’s subtler (or murkier) arts. New research gives an intriguing glimpse into how snackmakers can use it to manipulate grazing customers: for better or for worse.
A group of people were offered either a hard or soft version of the same chocolate and asked to estimate how many calories it contained. They erroneously assumed that the hard version had fewer calories, when the energy content in each of the treats was actually the same. Read more
The world has a new banana behemoth. While investors will be preoccupied with the earnings per share implications of Monday’s merger between Chiquita and Fyffes, the deal is important for banana eaters and growers too. Here are three key questions about the merger.
1. How big is the banana market and is this new company going to dominate it? Read more
Million-dollar endorsement: Honus Wagner teaches lessons to modern celebrities (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art via Bloomberg)
In the strange world of celebrity endorsements, it is usually the brand that dumps the celebrity – as happened, say, when Nike dropped cycling cheat Lance Armstrong in 2012 – rather than vice versa. So it stood out last week when Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan revealed he stopped endorsing Pepsi some years ago, after a young girl asked him why he was advertising a drink her teacher said was “poisonous”.
“The Big B’s” declaration, during a talk with Indian business school students, coincided with a controversy that took the more predictable route. Actress Scarlett Johansson maintained her endorsement of SodaStream, the Israeli fizzy drinks company, and severed ties with Oxfam, the charity for which she had been a long-standing (and, people in the NGO world tell me, interested and involved) goodwill ambassador.
But his wider comments shed light on the other side of such endorsements and how celebrities can limit the risk of cross-contamination. Read more
Usually limited to geeky product launches such as iPhones or high-street fashion collaborations, such as H&M’s tie-up with Karl Lagerfeld, the cronut queuers are inspired by similar motivations.
There are bonders who come to meet people who share their cake interests. And then there is the trophy value of being caught in the media and buzz. Even a humble cronut has bragging rights attached to it: “All day I waited for the flaky donut confection,” queuers will tell their children one day. Read more
No doubt, if Microsoft reverses course over Windows 8 – for instance, by restoring the familiar “Start” button to the opening screen – it will provide abundant fodder for the writers of business school case studies.
But is the comparison with Coca-Cola’s famous 1985 marketing U-turn, when it brought back “Coke Classic” following a consumer backlash against its “New Coke” recipe, correct? Read more
It has been a frustrating week for well-intentioned and interventionist political leaders. Michael Bloomberg and David Cameron have been roundly defeated in their efforts to prod citizens into health.
Not since Sweeney Todd has there been such uncertainty about what exactly goes into processed meat. This time, it isn’t the customers of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street but Romanian horses.
Coffee chain to open in Vietnam. Getty Images
Much is being made of Starbucks’ plan to open an outlet in Ho Chi Minh City in February – “taking on Vietnam’s coffee culture”, as the FT headline has it.
In fact, Starbucks is a little behind schedule – it intended to open in Vietnam in 2012 – and, in any case, I wonder if the significance of the move is not in the headline but in the small print, where the Seattle-based group makes its now familiar commitment to “work closely with local farming communities”. Read more
As Felix Baumgartner struggled to correct his spin at the start of his 128,100 ft descent to earth on Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking of the consequences of failure for Red Bull, his sponsor.
Mr Baumgartner’s feat was obviously extraordinary and compelling. It was a new frontier for him, and for YouTube (where 8m people watched the dive live), but despite strenuous efforts to identify some great scientific benefit of the stunt, it is a far greater leap for brand-marketers – and I worry where they will go next.
The Austrian’s sponsor is an introverted company with an extrovert energy drink brand and it has blasted out a niche in extreme sports, from Formula One to air races. Plenty of people pointed out on Twitter on Sunday that if Mr Baumgartner died, so would Red Bull’s slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”. Read more
I hope activist Bill Ackman knows what he’s getting into by backing the purchase of a 29 per cent stake in Burger King.
Mr Ackman is one of the founders of Justice Holdings, a UK investment vehicle that until Tuesday was, to me at least, as little-known as Burger King is famous. But Justice’s decision to buy a minority stake and take the company on to the New York Stock Exchange reminded me how, a few years ago, a rumour that Warren Buffett had his eye on the chain turned out to be a whopper. Read more
It is a shock to hear Muhtar Kent, chief executive of that quintessentially American company Coca-Cola, suggest that the US is now less friendly to business than China.
But Mr Kent’s comments – “In the west, we’re forgetting what really worked 20 years ago” – echo what I heard two weeks ago at Harvard when I talked to Michael Porter, perhaps the world’s best-known expert on competitiveness. Read more
I can only hope a demerger of Kraft Foods into its snack and US grocery businesses will save consumers from the unholy alliance of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate and Philadelphia cream cheese in a single spread, recently heralded by UK tabloid The Sun.
More worrying, however, is the impact of near-constant corporate reorganisation on the underlying businesses – and particularly on Cadbury. Read more
The 46 per cent first-day pop in Dunkin’ Donuts shares in its initial public offering in New York made the company look like an internet wonder. It has also brought back memories of the disastrous Krispy Kreme IPO in 2000.
Krispy Kreme, for those who do not recall, was a high-flying stock in the early 2000s before accounting difficulties and mismanagement brought the shares crashing down again. At the time, it was hailed as a solid alternative to internet stocks.
This, for example, was Andy Serwer’s conclusion in Fortune in 2003:
Unless the fat police run riot across this land, Krispy Kreme is here to stay. It isn’t some fly-by-night dot-com. There’s 66 years of history here. It’s a product that people not only love but understand. (Quick, what does InfoSpace do?) The world is always filled with unknowns, never more so than right now. With all that’s wrong out there, sometimes it’s easy to lose focus on the big picture. So take a second and ask yourself: Is the American dream still alive? Is Krispy Kreme for real? Don’t bet against it.