Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance at the checkout

Given the date, I thought I'd share with you all a tale of Remembrance Day past that, in my opinion, encapsulates the significance of the occasion (and is also, I think, in it's own way, darkly amusing).

Four or five years back, The Wife and I were doing our weekly supermarket shop on a Sunday which happened to be Remembrance Day. Come 11am, the announcement came over the PA that the store would fall silent for a couple of minutes as we paid our collective respects.

A hush descended, broken only by the odd cough and a few whimpering infants.

How did the retailer choose to mark the end of this period of reflection? The Last Post? The National Anthem? A round of applause? No, the most solemn two minutes of the year was instead brought to a close with a cheery "Thank you for shopping at Tesco."

The odd thing was, they had probably agonised over this, and somebody somwhere had concluded that it was the right thing to say.

On further reflection it seemed almost apt - a reminder of exactly what was won all those many years ago, in Flanders Fields and on the beaches of Normandy, and what Our Boys, as The Sun refers to them, are dying for today. The freedom to shop.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Premier Foods and the Premier League

Since the phrase "credit crunch~" burst into our collective consciousness in 2008, high profile business stories have tended to be those in which the public has a genuine stake, such as state-owned banks, or outsourcing firms that are perceived to be making money off the taxpayer. Of course, an industry that has both suffered from, and seemed somehow immune to, the effectsd of the financial crisis has been football, especially in the surreal world of the Premier League.

One of the most interesting stories of the past five years, has actually been that of another Premier, Premier Foods. Up until the mid-noughties, the company was interesting enough, home to such brands as Ambrosia, Branston and Lloyd Grossman. They made headlines with bold moves such as launching Branston Beans, reckoned briefly by some commentators to pose a serious threat to Heinz in that category. They were interesting, sure, even exciting at times, but no cause to hold the front page.

But then a guy called Robert Schofield took over and went on an acquisition spree that would make even the big spenders of the Premier League dizzy.

Rival RHM was first - bringing well-known brands such as Bisto, Sharwoods, Robertsons and Hovis into the fold. It was a seismic step, operationally and brand-wise. It was a genuine case of eating the Big Fish. And no sooner had we rubbed our eyes and absorbed that, then Mr Schofield went out and bought another Big Fish in Campbell's, adding the likes of OXO, Fray Bentos and Batchelors to a bloated portfolio. One wondered how on Earth they were going to make a success of brands that seemed for the most part to be competing with each other. And where was the money coming from?

Well, now we know. The company is in trouble, its famous names not enough to protect it from its massive debts, and Robert Schofield is off, leaving an unwieldy mess behind him, having reached for the stars and come crashing back to Earth. Sound familiar? Well, it bears a striking resemblance to the fate of many of of our famous football clubs - Leeds United and Portsmouth spring to mind. But there are still plenty of others riding the crest of a debt-fuelled wave.

Obviously it's strange comparing Baked Beans and Bisto to Balotelli and Tevez - but perhaps this tale from a more prosaic world should give the Billionnaires of Man City pause for thought.