The Big Story

New Attitudes and Products Have Dry January Buzzing

Paul Alexander

Today is January 10th, which means that for those participating, Dry January is roughly 30% over. As the name suggests, participants in Dry January abstain (or try to abstain) from alcohol for the month of January to moderate and/or reassess their drinking habits and kick off the new year with a healthier start. Many consumers have increased their drinking over the course of the pandemic: a poll conducted last March by the American Psychological Association found that roughly one in four adults reported increased alcohol consumption to manage their stress. However, participation in Dry January is increasing, driven by trends and product cycles that are independent of the pandemic.

First popularized in 2013 in London, Dry January has steadily become mainstream in both the U.K. and the U.S. According to the Britain-based charity Alcohol Change U.K., approximately one in six adults in the U.K. will participate in the month-long campaign this year, an increase of 22% compared to January 2021. Estimates of participation in the U.S. are slightly lower, but still amount to roughly one in seven adults, according to polls by YouGov and Morning Consult.

The increasing popularity of the event coincides with the rise of the “sober curious” movement, or the recent trend among some drinkers toward moderating, if not eliminating, their alcohol consumption. Sober curious drinking, which appears to be gaining popularity across all age groups but most quickly among millennials and Gen Z, has many positives, including improved physical and mental health, better sleep hygiene, and weight loss. In this regard, sober curious drinking fits in the same health-and-wellness megatrend that has recently propelled growth in categories such as organic foods, plant-based proteins, and home fitness. A 2019 Nielsen study found that 66% of millennials reported making efforts to reduce alcohol consumption.

Beverage companies have taken notice of these trends, and so while Dry January might seem like an anti-consumption “holiday,” product launches and sales of nonalcoholic beverages are booming. Nielsen reports that sales of nonalcoholic beverages were up 33% to $331 million over the trailing year as of last fall, with particularly robust growth in nonalcoholic spirits, which the group estimates increased 113% year-over-year in 2021. A bevy of direct-to-consumer, ecommerce no- and low-alcohol spirits have headlined this growth in the last couple of years, including Seedlip (which sold a majority stake to spirits giant Diageo in 2019) Ritual Zero Proof, Clean Co., Monday Spirits, and WhistlePig Whiskey’s zero-alcohol rye, to name just a few. These join the more established category of nonalcoholic beer, which has also seen its fair share of innovation and product launches in recent years, including Heineken 0.0, Budweiser Zero, Sam Adams Just the Haze, and the popular newcomer Athletic Brewing, which has raised over $125 million of growth capital since its launch in 2017, according to S&P Capital IQ.

If you look for no- and low-alcohol beverages online because you think you might participate in Dry January, you will find the digital marketing in your social media exploding with ads for new, delicious-looking nonalcoholic beers, wines, spirits, and mocktails. This type of marketing is part of what Nielsen estimates drove 315% year-over-year growth in 2021 for nonalcoholic beverages over ecommerce. These ads also may be compelling enough to make you contemplate jumping on the Dry January bandwagon. Even if you’re not sure about going completely dry, you might consider another option that seems to be gaining steam among those who are only willing to call themselves sober curious: Damp January.

Headlines of the Week

Authentic Brands to Pay $269 Million for Majority Stake in David Beckham’s Firm

Authentic Brands Group Inc. is buying a majority stake in former soccer player David Beckham’s brand-management company, according to a person familiar with the matter.  Authentic Brands will pay about 200 million pounds ($269 million) for a 55% stake in Beckham’s DB Ventures LLC, said the person, who asked to not be identified because the matter isn’t public.  The deal will give Authentic Brands revenue from one of the world’s most high-profile athletes, who retired from soccer in 2013 and today pitches for brands including Tudor watches. The New York-based branding firm owns the rights to iconic stars including Elvis Presley and Shaquille O’Neal, who is also a major investor in Authentic Brands.  Authentic Brands has branched out since Jamie Salter founded it in 2010, teaming with the mall landlords to buy retailers including Aeropostale Inc. and Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy. In August, it agreed to buy sneaker brand Reebok from Adidas AG for about $2.5 billion.


Nike sues Lululemon over its Mirror home gym product and apps

Back in June 2020, Lululemon got into the flourishing home gym market in the midst of the pandemic by purchasing home fitness startup Mirror for $500 million. Now, Nike has filed a lawsuit against the company over Mirror, accusing it of patent infringement. According to CNBC and The Wall Street Journal, Nike’s lawsuit alleges that Mirror — a full-size interactive mirror that brings a live fitness instructor into the user’s home — and its apps use technologies that it invented and patented.  The sports apparel giant specifically mentioned that it filed a patent application in 1983 for a device that can prompt users to exercise, monitor their heart rate, determine their speed while running and the calories they burned. Nike also has a number of mobile apps for fitness, including the Nike Run Club and Nike Training Club.



Apparel & Footwear

American Eagle completes acquisition of Quiet Logistics

American Eagle Outfitters continues to transform its supply chain with added logistics capabilities. The specialty apparel retailer has completed its acquisition of Quiet Logistics for approximately $360 million in cash (including adjustments for closing cash and working capital). The logistics company operates a network of fulfillment centers, which utilize state-of-the-art technology including robotics, in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis and Jacksonville. The centers are designed to locate products closer to need, creating inventory efficiencies and providing affordable same-day and next-day delivery options to customers and stores. Quiet Logistics, which will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Eagle, will continue to run its business independently. The network will support the retailer’s continued growth, while also driving economies of scale as it expands its customer base to other brands and retailers seeking advanced logistics capabilities, according to American Eagle. American Eagle’s purchase of Quiet Logistics follows its September 2021 acquisition of Terra, a new logistics startup. AirTerra’s system aggregates packages from multiple shippers through its own network in major metropolitan areas.

Frasers Group reportedly offers to buy Footasylum

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley’s retail group is reported to have tabled an offer to buy Footasylum, the trainer retailer that rival JD Sports has been instructed to sell by the competition regulator. The offer is the latest development in a running battle between Ashley’s Frasers Group and JD Sports over access to the best goods from key suppliers, such as Nike and Adidas, as well as the attention of shoppers. JD Sports was ordered to sell Footasylum’s 65 stores by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in November, after the watchdog ruled that JD’s purchase of the smaller chain of trainer shops would result in a worse deal for shoppers. The regulator must approve the new purchaser to ensure it is a truly independent competitor – unless JD Sports successfully appeals against the ruling. Frasers, which owns the House of Fraser department stores and luxury streetwear retailer Flannels as well as Sports Direct, has notified the CMA of its plan to make an offer, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

Victoria’s Secret reiterates Q4 guidance, begins $250M share buyback

Victoria’s Secret last week said it’s on track to deliver on the Q4 guidance it gave in November, for sales to be flat or rise as much as 3% above 2020’s $2.1 billion and for operating income to land between $295 million and $335 million. The lingerie retailer enjoyed encouraging sales growth during the peak Thanksgiving shopping weekend and a “large rush of business as we approached December 25th,” CEO Martin Waters said in a statement. The newly independent company, which separated from L Brands sibling Bath & Body Works last year, also announced an accelerated share repurchase agreement to buy back $250 million of its common stock, starting with about 4.1 million shares on New Year’s Eve. The lingerie brand never lost its place as the world’s dominant retailer in the segment, holding onto 20% market share in the U.S. (down from 26% in 2015), according to Wells Fargo analysts, citing The NPD Group.

Savile Row tailor placed into liquidation as quest for buyer fails

The parent company behind London’s iconic men’s tailor Gieves & Hawkes has been put into liquidation after failed attempts to woo potential buyers. FTI Consulting and R&H Services have been appointed as joint liquidators for the 250-year-old brand, alongside its sister brands Kent & Curwen and Cerutti, according to The Times newspaper. The newspaper reported that the liquidators were drafted in by the company’s lender, Standard Chartered, after advisory firm RSM failed to find a buyer. Its deteriorating finances come after a buying spree that saw the acquisitions of London-based luxury clothing retailer Aquascutum and Paris-based fashion house Cerruti 1881 in 2015. It had been thought a sale would likely involve another Chinese buyer, although there were hopes that the firm could woo British supermarket titan Marks & Spencer. Trinity Limited is also thought to owe millions to David Beckham, the footballer, after an agreement to license his name and image for its Kent & Curwen brand was terminated early.


Athletic & Sporting Goods

Fanatics to Buy Topps in $500mn Deal as Trading Card Biz Zooms into 2022

Fanatics has reached an agreement to acquire the Topps trading card business, according to people familiar with the plans, a move that will likely accelerate its recent push into the booming industry.  Michael Rubin’s company is paying nearly $500 million to buy Topps Sports & Entertainment, the business unit that includes physical cards and digital collectibles, according to the people, who were granted anonymity because the negotiations are private. The remainder of The Topps Co., including the Bazooka Candy Brands confectionary, will remain with the current owners, private equity firm Madison Dearborn and Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company, the people said.  Fanatics, the world’s largest seller of licensed sports apparel, shocked the trading card industry in August when it secured exclusive long-term trading card licenses from a handful of sports leagues and unions (including rights to MLB and MLBPA currently held by Topps).

Jeff Vinik sells Lightning stake to private equity firm Arctos

The Tampa Bay Lightning have a new minority owner.  Arctos Sports Partners, a private equity firm based in New York and Dallas, purchased an undisclosed stake in the team, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced Tuesday. The transaction was approved by the NHL and finalized Dec. 31.  The sale gives Arctos a share of Vinik Sports Group, which owns the Lightning and its lease on Amalie Arena, manages the Yuengling Center at the University of South Florida and holds multimedia rights for USF athletics.  Vinik, who paid a reported $170 million for the Lightning in 2010, declined to say what percentage of the team Arctos now owns, how much they paid, or how they paid it. NHL rules passed in December prohibit institutional investment groups from owning more than 20 percent of a team.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Procter & Gamble Acquires Tula Skincare

In less than two months, Procter & Gamble (P&G) has made its third prestige beauty acquisition, snapping up Tula Skincare. Co-founded in 2014 by Dr. Roshini Raj, a board-certified gastroenterologist and internist with a medical degree from New York University’s School of Medicine; Ken Landis, a co-founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics; and Dan Reich, a tech entrepreneur, Tula’s groundbreaking approach to skincare leverages the power of probiotics to improve the overall health and appearance of the skin. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Procter & Gamble is a Fortune 500 company and the global leader in Consumer Packaged Goods. P&G serves nearly 5 billion people around the world with its multi-category portfolio, which spans beauty, healthcare, grooming, fabric and home care, and baby, feminine, and family care. P&G’s brands are widely recognizable, including Crest, Febreze, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Olay, Pantene, SK-II, and Tide. P&G appears to be making a move in prestige beauty, adding Ouai, Farmacy Beauty, and Tula Skincare to its existing portfolio of SK-II and First Aid Beauty and going head-to-head with L’Oréal, Unilever, and Estée Lauder.

Walgreens Q1 tops Street; warns of rising labor costs

Walgreens Boots Alliance reported fiscal first-quarter results that beat expectations and raised its full-year guidance as customers flocked to its stores for COVID booster shots, testing and at-home test kits. The pharmacy retailer said it administered 15.6 million Covid vaccines in the first quarter, for a total to more than 56 million to date. Its pace of vaccinations accelerated from the previous quarter amid booster shots and first-time shots for children. On the company’s earnings call, CFO James Kehoe said the company will spend $120 million more on wages to keep up with demand and compete in a very tight labor market. Net income totaled $3.58 billion, or $4.13 per share, in the quarter ended Nov. 30, compared to a loss of $308 million, or $0.36 per share in the year-ago period. Adjusted earnings of $1.68 topped analysts’ estimates for $1.36. Total revenue rose to $33.90 billion from $31.44 billion, beating estimates of $32.88 billion. U.S. retail comparable sales rose 10.6%, the highest gain in more than 20 years, the company said.


Discounters & Department Stores

The pandemic forces Walmart and Macy’s to shift store operations

Driven in part by a new, even more contagious omicron variant, the COVID-19 pandemic carried on into the new year, fueling ongoing concerns about health and the economy. “The COVID-19 omicron variant will bring uncertainty to the economy in 2022 and could contribute to inflation, but is unlikely to cause widespread shutdowns or slowdowns,” according to a report Wednesday from National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. In recent days, however, two major retailers, Walmart and Macy’s, said they have gone so far as to shift store operations in response to the pandemic’s surge.

Walmart aims to expand in-home delivery to 30M US households this year

Walmart announced on Wednesday it plans to expand its in-home delivery service from 6 million U.S. households to 30 million by the end of 2022. To rapidly scale InHome delivery, the retailer said it will hire more than 3,000 associate delivery drivers — a newly created role — this year and also build out a fully electric fleet of delivery vans. With the expansion of InHome delivery, the retailer is leaning into customer demand for convenient and premium delivery options and continuing to grow its last-mile delivery capabilities.

Target launches first storage, home organization private label

Target on Wednesday unveiled Brightroom, its first storage and home organization private label, as consumers look to refresh their spaces at the start of the year. Brightroom offers over 450 products with prices starting at $1 and mostly under $25, according to a Target press release. The collection includes under-sink storage, utility carts and decorative storage. The collection is available at Target locations, and through the company’s same-day services.

Walmart cuts paid Covid leave in half, as CDC isolation guidance changes

Walmart is cutting pandemic-related paid leave in half — from two weeks to one week — after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut isolation requirements last week for asymptomatic people with Covid and shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine. The big-box retailer, which is the country’s largest private employer, announced the policy change in a memo that was sent to employees Tuesday and was obtained by CNBC on Wednesday. In the memo, Walmart said that through March 31 it will provide paid time off for employees who are mandated to quarantine by a health-care provider, government or Walmart or if they fail a health screening or test positive for Covid. It said employees who qualify will be paid for one week.



Emerging Consumer Companies

The New York Times acquires The Athletic

The New York Times announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire The Athletic, the global digital subscription-based sports media business that provides national and local coverage of more than 200 clubs and teams in the U.S. and around the world, for an all cash purchase price of $550 million, subject to customary closing adjustments. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022. The Athletic is a global digital subscription-based sports publisher with more than 450 full-time writers, editors and producers. Subscribers have access to more than 1,000 new stories and 150+ podcast episodes published every week. The Athletic is headquartered in San Francisco.

Erewhon Market becomes a coveted stamp of approval for CPG brands

Erewhon Market, the high-end store known for its trendy and expensive groceries – including such offerings as a beef dandelion echinacea bone broth for $14 a jar and $20 Cult Coconut vegan yogurt – has attracted a fanbase of young consumers as well as health and wellness influencers. The retailer’s current iteration began in 2011. Since receiving an injection of capital in 2019, Erewhon has been rapidly expanding. The grocer now has seven locations, most recently adding a store in Silver Lake in 2020 and another inside a former Pasadena Borders location in November 2021. For brands, Erewhon is also a place to see and be seen. Brands that are just starting out are enticed by the possibility of having one of Erewhon’s well-known regulars post about their product on social media, and as such are increasingly determined to get into Erewhon from year one. Erewhon’s high-income clientele also drives a lot of sales. In 2019, Forbes reported that Erewhon generated $2,500 in sales per square foot of floor space — which at the time was over four times more than the average grocery store.



Food & Beverage

Water brand Liquid Death raises $75 million at a $525 million valuation

Liquid Death, a water brand launched in 2018 has just landed $75 million in Series C funding led by the startup studio Science, which helped launch the Company and now owns a “strong minority” position. The LA-based brand, which sells canned mountain water from the Alps that will “murder your thirst,” is now carried in more than 29,000 locations throughout the U.S., including Whole Foods, Target, Safeway and 7-Eleven stores.  Revenue reached nearly $45 million last year, up from $3 million in 2019 when the company sold its first product.  Liquid Death also announced the launch of a flavored water product line, with flavors such as Berry It Alive, Severed Lime and Mango Chainsaw.

Animal-free diary company Remilk raises $120 million

Remilk, an Israel-based company that makes animal-free dairy proteins by precision fermentation, raised $120 million in a Series B round, expanding its financial resources more than 10-fold. The round was led by Hanaco Ventures. Other investors include Precision Capital, Rage Capital, CPT Capital, Intercap, OurCrowd, Aliya Capital, Chartered Group, Indorama Ventures, Tal Ventures, Fresh Fund, Idan and Gil Ofer, Izaki Ventures and Paradigm Shift Fund.  The funding will allow Remilk to scale its production of animal-free dairy proteins for commercial use in products including ice cream, cheeses and yogurt. Remilk already has set up production facilities in Europe and the U.S., according to The Times of Israel.  Remilk is one of a handful of companies worldwide that uses fermentation to create dairy proteins without cows.

MidOcean Partners acquires Casper’s Ice Cream

MidOcean Partners, a New York-based middle-market private equity firm focused on the consumer and business services sectors, said it acquired Casper’s Ice Cream (Casper’s), a Richmond, Utah-based manufacturer and supplier of branded and co-packed frozen novelty products sold in grocery and mass retail outlets throughout the United States. Casper’s owns the FatBoy brand, one of the fastest-growing frozen novelty brands in the United States, as well as the Jolly Llama and ChurnBaby brands. MidOcean Partners said it intends to accelerate the company’s growth and drive value through comprehensive organic initiatives and strategic mergers and acquisitions. Casper’s represents MidOcean’s second investment in branded food in the last six months, following the acquisition of Louisiana Fish Fry in July 2021. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.



Grocery & Restaurants

Taco Bell launches taco-a-day subscription program nationwide to drive visits

Taco Bell is launching a taco-a-day subscription program nationwide Thursday to drive more frequent visits. Customers with the Taco Lover’s Pass can order one taco — a crunchy taco, soft taco, spicy potato soft taco, Doritos Locos taco or the supreme version of any of those — each day for 30 days straight on the chain’s app. The pass costs around $10 a month, depending on the location. In its latest quarter, the Yum Brands chain reported U.S. same-store sales growth of 5%, falling short of Wall Street’s high expectations. Taco Bell is typically the top performer in Yum’s portfolio. The chain has struggled to recover late-night and breakfast sales throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but it relaunched breakfast in August. The subscription program will likely encourage more frequent visits from customers, who might choose to order additional items with their subscription taco.

More restaurant employees are quitting than in any other industry, recent data shows

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ labor data from Nov. 2021 shows what the restaurant industry has long been experiencing: people are quitting foodservice in droves. According to the report released on Jan. 4, quit rates for the accommodation and foodservice industry has grown from 4.8% to 6.9% over the past year, a larger jump than any other sector listed. Despite the growing quit rate, hiring has largely remained stagnant over the past year, with restaurant industry hiring rates at 8.1% in both Nov. 2020 and Nov. 2021, while most other industries saw at least modest hiring growth. Because of this widening chasm between restaurants needing workers and employees leaving the industry, the rate of foodservice job openings has grown significantly from 5.8% to 8.4% over the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For restaurant operators experiencing labor shortages every day in the trenches, these numbers are not surprising. Restaurant job growth has largely remained stagnant over the second half of 2021, and restaurant owners are scrambling to offer higher wages, benefits and even unique benefits to attract and retain employees like buying workers cars or paying student employees to do their homework during shifts.

Home & Road

‘Same Issues, Different Gradient’: Supply Chain Trips Up Bed Bath & Beyond Quarter Again

“Same issues, different gradient,” was how Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark Tritton described the big retailer’s third quarter numbers, which continued to show disappointing results on both the top and bottom lines. And once again the company pointed to the dreaded supply chain meltdown as the source of its problems for the quarter, which showed a comparable sales decrease of 7% (-5% in stores, -7 % online) compared to the prior year period and a 4% drop compared to the fiscal 2019 third quarter. “Supply chains issues,” he said, once again “were more than we expected. “The good news was that we had great demand, the bad was that we couldn’t meet it. We left at least $100 million in revenue on the table in the third quarter” because of late deliveries. Tritton said the retailer’s major merchandising push into private label “owned brands” – eight launched in the past calendar year – contributed to half of the company’s supply chain woes but that much of the missed deliveries remain highly saleable merchandise which can be layered onto store inventories when they finally do arrive.

Leon’s buys back C$200 million in common stock

Leon’s Furniture Limited, parent company of Canadian home furnishings retailer Leon’s, announced the completion of a stock purchase and cancellation of C$200 million worth of common shares. The Toronto-based retail group took up and paid for 7,999,993 common shares at a price of C$25 per common share under the offer, representing an aggregate purchase price of approximately C$200 million and approximately 10.4% of the total number of the company’s issued and outstanding common shares before giving effect to the offer. The offer period ran from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30. The offer was carried out as a “modified Dutch auction,” which provides holders of common shares two methods of tendering to the offer.

Jewelry & Luxury

The Hot Streak Continues: Holiday Jewelry Sales Grew 32%

Despite the omicron variant, the jewelry industry’s stockings overflowed with cheer during the 2021 holiday, with jewelry sales rising 32% over the prior year, according to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse, the retail sales measurement service. Even more impressive, jewelry sales rose 26% over the pre-COVID-19 holiday of 2019. Jewelry showed the strongest annual growth of all the categories surveyed by SpendingPulse. The jewelry numbers far outpace SpendingPulse’s estimate for retail sales overall. The group found that holiday sales across-the-board in 2021 rose an impressive 8.5% over 2020 and 11% over 2019. SpendingPulse considers the holiday shopping season as Nov. 1–Dec. 24.

What 2022 holds in store for luxury

The past two years should have been horrible for the €283bn luxury goods sector. Many of the usual triggers for high discretionary spending — confidence in the economy, international travel, social occasions — have been in short supply. Stores have closed, reopened and closed again; fashion shows and other key marketing events have been nixed or migrated online; supply chains have been squeezed; prices of materials and labor have gone up. And yet global sales of luxury goods made a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, according to analysts, as sector stocks — up 40 per cent year-on-year — outperformed the wider equity market for the sixth consecutive year. (Profits also made a full rebound thanks to rental renegotiations and other cost savings made early in the pandemic.) Fiscal stimulus, a strong stock market and increased household savings buoyed spending in the US, and with fewer opportunities to splash out on dining or travel, many consumers funneled what they would have spent on luxury services into luxury goods.

How far have luxury brands come in terms of sustainable beauty?

Chanel has officially launched its first sustainable beauty range, No.1 de Chanel. The French fashion house’s new collection has been created with a circular focus in mind, with the brand claiming every aspect of the production process is eco-friendly. Natural ingredients make up 97 per cent of the formulations and 80 per cent of the packaging is made from recyclable glass. Released this week, the range has been hailed by the century-old brand as a “new generation of beauty” and includes skincare, makeup and a fragrance mist. “At the heart of this new holistic, environmentally conscious, anti-ageing line is red camellia extract and its unique revitalizing power,” a statement on Chanel’s website reads. The new eco line includes a foaming cleanser (£42), a revitalizing serum (£67), an eye cream (£58) and an illuminating foundation (£55) — the latter available in 20 shades — among other things.

2021 Diamond Sales Exceed Pre-Pandemic Levels for De Beers, Alrosa

De Beers Group and Alrosa, the world’s two largest diamond mining companies, closed out 2021 with sales topping both 2020 and 2019. In its 10th and final round of sales for the year, held from Dec. 6-21, De Beers reported rough diamond sales totaled $332 million. That is down 22 percent when compared with the previous sales cycle ($438 million), 27 percent year-over-year ($452 million) and 22 percent from the same period in 2019, pre-pandemic ($426 million), when the market began to pick up following a difficult year. CEO Bruce Cleaver predicted last month rough sales would slow down again in cycle 10, citing seasonal closures in South Africa. But, he noted, De Beers is still closing out the year ahead of 2020 and 2019.


Office & Leisure

Hasbro names new CEO and COO

Hasbro named Chris Cocks as its new permanent CEO, effective Feb. 25. Cocks currently serves as president and chief operating officer of the toy company’s digital and role-playing games segment. Cocks replaces interim chief Rich Stoddart, a board director who stepped into the role after the company’s longtime CEO Brian Goldner died unexpectedly in October. Hasbro promoted Eric Nyman to the role of company president and COO, also effective Feb. 25. Nyman is currently chief consumer officer and COO of Hasbro’s consumer products segment. He replaces former COO John Frascotti, who retired last year. Hasbro Chair of the Board Tracy Leinbach said that in Cocks, “we have chosen a leader uniquely positioned to execute and evolve Hasbro’s Brand Blueprint strategy while continuing to generate growth and deliver strong shareholder returns.”

Office Depot parent sells CompuCom

The ODP Corp. has completed the sale of its IT services subsidiary. The parent company of Office Depot and Office Max has sold its CompuCom Systems subsidiary to an affiliate of Variant Equity in a transaction valued up to $305 million. The deal consists of a mix of cash, an interest-bearing promissory note, and a contingent future earn out, ODP said. ODP in January 2021 said that it planned to sell CompuCom, which it acquired in 2017. In a plan unveiled in May 2021, ODP is in the process of splitting into two companies, with the move expected to be completed in the first half of this year. The two companies will consist of ODP and its operating company, which will be renamed ODP Business Solutions and be a B2B business solutions provider, and Office Depot, which will include approximately 1,100 Office Depot and OfficeMax stores, along with an e-commerce website. The split is seen as paving the way for Office Depot to be acquired by rival Staples.

Bull Moose sells retail chain to its employees

Bull Moose’s 11 stores in Maine and New Hampshire are changing ownership under an employee stock ownership plan.  Bull Moose, a mainstay in the state’s music retail world for over 30 years, has been sold to its employees, the company announced in a news release Tuesday.  With employee ownership, often known as an employee stock ownership plan or ESOP, a company’s employees own shares in the company or the right to the value of shares in the company.  Bull Moose has over 140 employees across its locations, according to the release.  Founder Brett Wickard will stay on as interim CEO and chair of the board of directors during the transition. With the sale, Wickard said he hopes to build a platform for employees to have more control and input into the company operations, to create financial security for their future and to provide more earning opportunities.

Technology & Internet

GameStop shares surge on report it will create NFT marketplace

GameStop shares rose more than 22% in extended trading Thursday after The Wall Street Journal reported the retailer plans to create a marketplace for non-fungible tokens, often called NFTs. GameStop also plans to establish cryptocurrency partnerships to create games and items for the marketplace, according to the report, which cited people familiar with the matter. The report suggests that GameStop, which has been at the center of a retail trader frenzy, will expand into one of the most hyped sectors in technology. NFTs are a kind of technology that allows proof of ownership of digital goods to be stored on a blockchain, often Etherium. NFT prices have risen in recent months driven by enthusiasm from cryptocurrency holders about the potential for the technology. GameStop’s marketplace will focus on virtual video game goods such as character outfits and weapons, according to the report.


Deep learning and large language: How A.I. is set to evolve in 2022

Machines are getting smarter and smarter every year, but artificial intelligence is yet to live up to the hype that’s been generated by some of the world’s largest technology companies. AI can excel at specific narrow tasks such as playing chess but it struggles to do more than one thing well. A seven-year-old has far broader intelligence than any of today’s AI systems, for example. AI algorithms are good at approaching individual tasks, or tasks that include a small degree of variability,” Edward Grefenstette, a research scientist at Meta AI, formerly Facebook AI Research, told CNBC. “However, the real world encompasses significant potential for change, a dynamic which we are bad at capturing within our training algorithms, yielding brittle intelligence,” he added. AI researchers have started to show that there are ways to efficiently adapt AI training methods to changing environments or tasks, resulting in more robust agents, Grefenstette said. He believes there will be more industrial and scientific applications of such methods this year that will produce “noticeable leaps.” While AI still has a long way to go before anything like human-level intelligence is achieved, it hasn’t stopped the likes of Google, Facebook (Meta) and Amazon investing billions of dollars into hiring talented AI researchers who can potentially improve everything from search engines and voice assistants to aspects of the so-called “metaverse.”


Finance & Economy

Survey: Experts predict another year of decades-high inflation

Elevated inflation isn’t going away, but price pressures will hopefully reach their peak this year, according to a new survey from Bankrate.  After inflation in 2021 soared to heights that Americans haven’t witnessed for decades, economists in Bankrate’s Fourth-Quarter Economic Indicator poll were evenly split over whether price gains over the course of this year will turn out to be as expected (40 percent) or more significant (40 percent).  How either of those projections play out depends on the ongoing pandemic, lingering supply chain disruptions and whether employers can fill their vacant positions — conditions that risk keeping consumer prices high for years to come, with some virus-fragile sectors impacted more than others.

Consumers piled on holiday season debt in 2021

An increased number of consumers built up debt this holiday season, an average of $1,249, and one in three admit to spending more than they could afford.  Those are top findings from a LendingTree survey that revealed 36% of consumers went into debt in the 2021 holiday months.  Most of the debt was placed on credit cards and, for the first time ever, about 40% used buy now, pay later finance options, according to a CNB report on the survey findings.