Three years ago in the March Madness of 2019, the University of Virginia Cavaliers won the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. Until last week, it had also been three years since the most recent Inspired Home Show, which was also in March 2019. While these events have absolutely nothing to do with each other, I couldn’t resist giving a shout out to my alma mater as this year’s tournament kicks off (unfortunately without my Wahoos).

Colloquially known as the “Chicago Housewares Show,” the Inspired Home Show last weekend (March 5th to 7th) was the first major consumer industry trade show since the pandemic began. The early March dates fortuitously aligned with declining Covid case numbers and a relaxing of safety restrictions that allowed this event to proceed while others planned for even a few weeks ago, like Ambiente and Toy Fair in February, were scrapped.

That’s not to say that this year’s show looked like ones of the past. It was approximately half the size of former versions. Many of the industry’s largest vendors did not exhibit – their booths, which serve as landmarks on the convention floor, noticeably absent. Many midsize and small vendors also did not attend, yielding a smaller exhibition floor with faux walls and black curtains obscuring excess space. Moreover, last minute cancellations and no-shows left vacancies between many of the occupied booths, as it became too late for organizers to reshuffle the layout or decorate around the gaps. Walking the floor, the density of attendees similarly felt like nearly half of previous years. Leading up to the show, industry executives and observers wondered if this year’s event would be more like a funeral – a disappointing affair validating the decision of those who skipped it, discouraging future attendance and heralding an end of trade shows generally.

However, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s oft misquoted quip, reports of the death of trade shows have been grossly exaggerated. Exhibitors were enthused, products reflected creativity, and attendees scurried to appointments eager to see what’s new. Nearly every exhibitor with whom I spoke was pleased (most thrilled) with the quality and productivity of their meetings. Common refrains were that all the important retailers were present and that meetings were more serious with more business being conducted than in previous years when there had been more browsing but less buying. Several vendors commented that Saturday, the show’s first day, was the best of any show they’ve ever experienced.

Personally, with fewer booths and attendees, I spent more time with exhibitors and had higher quality conversations than are typically practical. With many large caps absent, I also spent more time with midsize and emerging businesses that have less breadth across categories, but offer great expertise, creativity and innovation within their product ranges. Like most everyone else, I was uncertain about how worthwhile a scaled down show would be. However, I found the event to be quite energizing and valuable.

A cousin of the Chicago Housewares Show, the New York Tabletop Show has been a bi-annual event organized by and centered around Forty One Madison, the New York City home to many permanent showrooms for tabletop, kitchenware and décor. In February, Forty One Madison announced it will cease formally producing these shows. Citing a changing nature of trade shows, building management will leave it to tenants to manage themselves. Disappointed by this news, a group of tenants intends to create an association to promote and run shows going forward. Hopefully the positivity around the Chicago Housewares Show, which includes the tabletop category but expands much more broadly across housewares, will add momentum for the ad hoc group hoping to fill the shoes of the exiting organizer.

As investment bankers with a practice spanning consumer products, Consensus continues to view tradeshows as industry showcases that enhance the community, where industry stakeholders gather to launch new products, build the pipeline for upcoming seasons, meet new brands and executives, and, of course, plant the seeds for M&A and capital raising. Our team treats these events as attendance-mandatory because they allow us to see and hear about trends firsthand, meet new people and businesses and maintain connections with old friends and allies. While some may believe the pandemic transformed selling practices to a mostly virtual domain that obviates the need for in-person trade shows, my experience in Chicago and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees bodes well for the return of industrywide events. See you at the next one!

Headlines of the Week

No inflation relief in sight for U.S. as impact of Ukraine war intensifies

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dashed any hope U.S. consumers might have had for relief from sky-rocketing inflation, with gasoline prices in the last week surging by the most in nearly 17 years and costs of other goods like food ready to march higher as well.  Even before the invasion, the U.S. inflation report for February was set to show prices rising at their fastest pace in 40 years. “There had been expectations that February would be the high point for year-over-year headline inflation, but the Ukraine shock is already sending gas prices higher in March,” said Tim Duy, an economist at SGH Macro Advisors.  The development also comes at a perilous time for the Biden administration, already under fire for soaring costs for rents, electricity and food as the economy grapples with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which demand has outstripped supply.


Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Is Reportedly Eyeing An IPO

Savage X Fenty, the lingerie company founded by Rihanna, is working with banks on an initial public offering, Bloomberg reported Thursday. The IPO could value the company, which has raised around $310 million in funding, at $3 billion.  If an IPO does happen this year, it’s significant for a few reasons. First, most venture-backed companies have put IPO plans on pause given the volatile public market conditions so far this year, which have been exacerbated by inflation worries and geopolitical issues. Second, it would be a major milestone for a company founded by a woman—very few female-founded companies have gone public, though that number is on the rise. A successful IPO for El Segundo, California-based Savage X Fenty would also be some validation for the idea of pouring capital into underwear companies. Investing in those companies has become somewhat popular recently, with brands including Parade and SKIMS raising millions of dollars. Both Savage X Fenty and Kim Kardashian-founded SKIMS raised significant capital this year, with the former raising a $125 million Series C in January, and the latter raising a $240 million Series B in January.



Apparel & Footwear

In surprise reversal, Capri nixes CEO succession

In an about-face, John Idol is staying on as chair and chief executive at Capri Holdings, the company said in a press release Monday. Joshua Schulman, who has led the Michael Kors brand since August, when he was also named Idol’s successor as company CEO, is leaving the company instead, per the release. Capri, which also runs Versace and Jimmy Choo, didn’t immediately return requests for more information regarding the decision. Last month, the company reported Q3 revenues rose 24% year over year to $1.6 billion, with net income up 80% to $322 million. Observers hailed Schulman’s planned promotion last year, with Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow calling him “the ideal candidate.” He was to take the reins in September. For some reason, that’s now out the window, and Schulman is leaving a few months before he was to take over. Credit Suisse analyst Michael Binetti on Monday warned that “the vague nature of the departure will be viewed with skepticism/concern.” Schulman’s success in rehabilitating Tapestry’s Coach brand a few years ago was a major reason for the positive view of his appointment as Capri’s next chief executive, Binetti also noted in emailed comments.

Oak + Fort, Vancouver-based Firm, Makes Inroads in the U.S.

Oak + Fort, the Vancouver-based contemporary lifestyle brand, has kept a low profile in the U.S. but now wants to make a bigger splash. The company experienced a 132 percent growth rate in the U.S. market last year, and will open nine stores in North America in 2022, including units in Tyson’s Corner, Va., Topanga, Calif., and Boston, as well as a pop-up at Westfield Santa Anita mall in Arcadia, Calif. Since starting the company in 2010, Min Kang, the founder and chief executive officer, has put together a female-led executive team that plans an aggressive expansion across North America. Today, Oak + Fort has more than 27 stores, with 20 locations in Canada and seven in the U.S. New to the brand is an environmentally conscious designed sub-brand called “Oak Refined,” created in partnership with Hallotex, to manufacture their apparel line under the highest sustainable standards, using organic farmed and recycled materials. The South Korean-born Kang said what distinguishes Oak + Fort from other brands in the market is that it’s “minimal, trendy and affordable.” She said the brand is very well known in Canada, and she’s eager to have that same recognition factor in the U.S.


Athletic & Sporting Goods

Lululemon launches into footwear as it seeks to take on industry giants like Nike, Adidas

Lululemon is venturing into footwear, marking a new product category for the maker of leggings and sports bras and deepening its rivalry with giants like Nike and Adidas.  The company’s first-ever running shoe for women, called Blissfeel, will be available to purchase starting March 22 in select markets across North America, Mainland China and the United Kingdom. The running shoes will retail for $148.  The launch marks Lululemon’s official foray into the sneaker category, having only previously sold a small collection of shoes from Athletic Propulsion Labs. The footwear business, for women and men, could prove to be another important lever of growth for the athletic clothing retailer as it seeks to catch its larger competitors.

Solace Capital Partners Acquires Sun Mountain Sports

Solace Capital Partners announced that it has acquired Sun Mountain Sports, Inc. a leading producer of golf equipment and apparel, from founder and golf industry innovator Rick Reimers. Mr. Reimers will retain ownership of Sun Mountain Motor Sports, which produces electric golf carts under the Finn Scooters brand. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.  Founded in 1981, Sun Mountain is a pioneer in the golf industry known for its best-in-class brand and many innovations in golf bags, push carts, and outerwear. The Company developed the first lightweight golf bag and modern stand bag and is the leading independent golf bag manufacturer in North America. The Company was the first to introduce golf-specific performance outerwear and rainwear and has been credited with inventing the three-wheel golf push cart. Today, Sun Mountain’s products are sold in national retail stores, specialty golf stores, and pro shops, as well as online and internationally.

In Nike Counterfeit Lawsuit, Sealed Order Freezes Defendants’ Assets

Nike’s lawsuit against alleged sellers of counterfeit sportswear is set to move forward on Tuesday, when the brand’s lawyers will ask for a preliminary injunction. The sneaker company filed the complaint in Illinois district court in January, accusing a group of online marketplaces at sites like AliExpress and Amazon of trademark infringement and counterfeiting. After securing a temporary restraining order in February, Nike now wants a preliminary injunction that will continue to stop the defendants from selling fake Nike product, help its lawyers gather data on them, and freeze their assets.  When Nike first filed the lawsuit, it kept secret the list of 207 defendants, which it attached to the complaint in a sealed document. The company’s lawyers say that it has good cause to suspect the defendants are all residents of China and Hong Kong.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Walmart enters prestige beauty via partnership with U.K’s Space NK

Walmart is following in the footsteps of two of its rivals and entering the fast-growing prestige beauty market. The retail giant is teaming up with British retailer Space NK to bring prestige beauty products to, starting March 15, and nearly 250 Walmart stores this summer. The merchandise collection, called Beautyspace, leverages Walmart’s size and scale with Space NK’s assortment. It will launch with a curated assortment of products specifically for the Walmart customer, spanning a variety of price points across skincare, makeup, haircare and bath and body. The partnership comes as Target and Kohl’s are looking to gain share in prestige beauty via partnerships. Following the opening of 100 Ulta Beauty at Target shops last year, Target plans to open more than 250 locations by the end of 2022. Kohl’s is adding 400 in-store Sephora shops this year. Walmart’s new Beautyspace collection features more than 600 products from 15 brands, includes both new and established, some of which are only available at Walmart, with more to come throughout the year.

Ulta Beauty posts strong year as quarterly, annual sales soar

Ulta Beauty turned in better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and revenue as its sales jumped amid increased consumer confidence, government stimulus payments and the easing of COVD-19 restrictions. Looking ahead, the beauty giant said it sees consumers becoming “increasingly resilient” to COVID-19 surges and global uncertainty and that it expects “the recovery which began last year will continue in 2022 as consumers maintain their self-care routines and engage more in social activities.” Ulta plans to open about 50 new stores and remodel or relocate about 35 this year.  On the company’s earnings call, CEO Dave Kimbell said Ulta will test a smaller-store format in select smaller markets this year. It also will continue to expand its shop-in-shop concept with Target to at least 250 more locations by the end of 2022.

Gotha Cosmetics Acquires Majority Stake in China-Based iColor Group

Gotha Cosmetics has purchased a majority stake in iColor Group, a China-based cosmetic formulation and filling company. The acquisition marks a key milestone in the international expansion of Gotha, which was established in Italy in 2005. “Thanks to this acquisition Gotha Cosmetics will strengthen its global footprint and production capacity entering the Asian—and specifically Chinese—markets, which are experiencing a solid and stable growth,” said Gotha Cosmetics’ chief executive officer Paolo Valsecchi. “The initial focus will be the expansion in the local market by keeping the current iColor set up and leveraging our Italian expertise in cosmetics.” The deal will enable Gotha to accelerate its growth via local brands in China, as well as to support its current client portfolio in expanding in Asia through local production.


Discounters & Department Stores

Bending to activist pressure, Dollar Tree revamps board

Dollar Tree signaled new leadership at the top of its corporate board weeks after announcing the retirement of its executive chairman and former CEO, Bob Sasser. Set to lead the board as executive chair under the new plan is Richard Dreiling, a former CEO of Dollar General, according to a release. Paul Hilal, CEO of investment firm Mantle Ridge, would be vice chair. The board also plans to add five other new directors. Mantle Ridge has been agitating for change at Dollar Tree as an activist investor. After earlier launching barbs at the firm, Dollar Tree has given in to one of its primary demands: installing Dreiling in a leadership position.

Walmart adds free Spotify to Walmart+, gives membership free to staff

Walmart is partnering with Spotify to offer the retailer’s Walmart+ members free access to Spotify Premium for six months. Chris Cracchiolo, senior vice president of Walmart+, said in a corporate blog post that “Walmart+ members have told us they’re passionate about their music and entertainment, so today’s announcement is just one more way that we’re adding value to our Walmart+ membership.” Walmart also announced that it will turn the membership, which includes free shipping on e-commerce items along with other perks, into an employment benefit by giving it free to Walmart’s 1.6 million full-time and part-time associates.


‘Target Zero’ appeals to consumers’ sustainability concerns

Target on Wednesday announced a new packaging and signage effort dubbed Target Zero, notifying customers of hundreds of products in beauty, personal care and household supplies “designed to be refillable, reusable or compostable, made from recycled content, or made from materials that reduce the use of plastic.” The Target Zero icon will be found in stores and online, indicating third-party brands like Burt’s Bees, Plus and Pacifica. Select products from Grove Co. and Target’s private Everspring label will be added in April, according to an emailed press release. The merchandising approach is part of the retailer’s Forward sustainability strategy, which includes the goals of using recyclable, compostable or reusable plastic packaging by 2025.



Emerging Consumer Companies

Cay Skin, skincare and sunscreen brand, raised $4.1 million

Cay Skin, founded by model Winnie Harlow, announced that it had raised $4.1 million. Ahead of Cay Skin’s launch last week, the company closed its seed round in January, making Ms. Harlow one of about 100 Black female founders to have raised more than $1 million in venture capital funding, according to Fortune. The latest round brought her brand’s total funding to $6.5 million. Investors in Cay Skin include Duggal’s Female Founders Fund, True Beauty Ventures, New Money Ventures, Air Venture Partners, and Silas Venture Partners.

Kicks Crew, online sneaker platform, raises $6 million Series A

KICKS CREW, a global e-commerce platform for sneakers and apparel, announced the closing of $6M in Series A funding. The financing was led by Gobi Partners, Pacific Century Group and DL Securities. The capital raised will assist in strengthening the company’s foothold in the U.S. market, attract talent across engineering, product, and marketing teams, and introduce a headquarters in Los Angeles. Founded in 2008 to make sneakers more accessible to all consumers, Kicks Crew provides access to a culture that transcends borders, connecting a growing number of creators, curators, and consumers into one inclusive community.

Personal care brand incubator, A-Frame Brands, announces $11.2 million fundraise

The Los Angeles-based incubator, which was founded in 2019 by actor and activist Hill Harper and entrepreneur Ari Bloom, raised $11.2 million in seed funding led by Forerunner Ventures and Initialized Capital. A-Frame is building a portfolio of personal care brands that create solutions for individuals who are underserved by the current products offered in the personal care market. The holding company’s portfolio currently includes Naomi Osaka’s brand, Kinlo, and Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade’s brand, Proudly Company. The company is gearing up for three launches over the next six months, including the launch of John Legend‘s skincare line, which will aim to serve consumers with melanin-rich complexions.



Food & Beverage

Chobani delays IPO and President departs

Yogurt giant Chobani is delaying its IPO and several executives are leaving the company, including President and Chief Operating Officer Peter McGuinness, The Wall Street Journal reported.  The sudden and surprising move to shelve the IPO, coupled with the upheaval in Chobani’s executive ranks, raises a lot of questions over what’s next for the Greek yogurt pioneer. The Wall Street Journal said the company is delaying its IPO over what the paper said was a volatile market. Chobani had been seeking a valuation of between $7 billion and $10 billion.  Chobani’s first foray outside of yogurt came in 2019 with the launch of non-dairy Chobani Oatmilk. Since then, it has moved into cold brew coffee, probiotic beverages, coffee creamers and, most recently, milk. In a November regulatory filing, Chobani said yogurt generated $1.2 billion in sales for the company in 2020, while its other products posted net sales of $157.7 million.


Kid’s Fresh Food Brand Once Upon a Farm raised $52 million

Children’s fresh food brand Once Upon a Farm (OUAF) announced today it has raised an additional $52 million in funding. The round was backed by existing investors, led by CAVU Venture Partners with S2G Ventures, Beechwood Capital and Cambridge SPG also taking part. In total, OUAF has raised roughly $100 million since its inception in 2015.  The brand, which was co-founded by actress and Save the Children’s ambassador Jennifer Garner, currently sells its fruit and vegetable kids pouches, overnight oat pouches, baby food pouches and frozen baby meals in 11,000 stores nationwide.  OUAF has had a triple digit compound annual growth rate since 2017 and plans to be in roughly 22,000 stores by end of year with over a $100M run rate.

Impossible Foods Sues Motif Foodworks over plant-based heme ingredient

Impossible Foods is suing Motif FoodWorks for patent infringement, claiming the Boston-based startup copied its technology for replicating the taste of animal meat.  Impossible Foods launched its plant-based burger featuring yeast-derived leghemoglobin, or heme, in 2016 and received a patent for it in 2020. Touted as a key ingredient for mimicking conventional meat, heme creates meaty aromas and caramelized, beefy notes when cooked with other ingredients like amino acids, sugars and vitamins. It also makes meat-free burgers appear pink and “bleed” when being prepared.  Motif FoodWorks introduced Hemami, a yeast-derived heme protein for use in plant-based meat alternatives, late last year.  The lawsuit, filed in Delaware federal court on March 9, claimed Motif’s Hemami technology infringes on an Impossible Foods patent for a meat alternative that contains heme. Specifically, Impossible Foods cited its patent for a “beef replica product” that contains, among other things, “a muscle replica of between 0.1% and 5% heme-containing protein.”


Grocery & Restaurants

February marks largest grocery price jump in over 40 years

Amid high inflation fueled by COVID supply-chain reverberations, and now the war in Ukraine, grocery prices experienced their biggest year-over-year increase in more than 40 years in February. The Consumer Price Index (for all urban consumers) rose 7.9% year-over-year (unadjusted) for February, the largest since the period ended in January 1982, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Thursday. The 0.8% month-to-month increase (seasonally adjusted) eclipsed the 0.6% uptick from December to January and more than doubled the 0.4% monthly increase in February 2021. Food pricing surged 7.9% year over year in February, with the monthly uptick of 1% slightly higher than the 0.9% increase in January but double the 0.5% gain in December. Food-at-home prices in February jumped 8.6% year over year — the largest 12-month increase since the period ended in April 1981, BLS noted. Monthly gains in the food-at-home index have been sharp so far in 2022, up 1.4% in February and 1% in January after only a 0.4% uptick in December.

Rasa gets funding round from Rellevant Partners

Rasa Worldwide Inc., which owns and operates a three-unit Indian fast-casual concept in the Washington, D.C., area, has drawn a financing round from equity-firm Rellevant Partners, the companies announced Tuesday. Washington, D.C.-based Rasa Worldwide said it planned to use the Series A funding from New York City-based Rellevant Partners, led by Janice Meyer and Jessica Kates, to open new locations, implement new technologies and grow the Rasa team. The company did not disclose the amount or terms of the Series A funding round. Rasa was created in 2017 by co-founders Sahil Rahman and Rahul Vinod, lifelong friends whose fathers were also in the restaurant business in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Rasa offers a Chipotle-like menu of Indian-American grains and bowls with ingredients like kebab, turmeric shrimp and chicken tikka as well as local produce options.

Home & Road

Big Lots’ home brands heading for $1B status

Two of Big Lots’ private-label home brands are generating strong sales across their multi-category assortments. The top-line Broyhill brand – which spans furniture, mattresses, fashion bedding, utility bedding, bath and décor – rang up more than $700 million last year, up 7% from the previous year. The moderately priced Real Living brand, which covers the same range of categories, generated more than $600 million in sales for the year. “Both are on way to becoming billion-dollar brands,” said Jonathan Ramsden, executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief accounting officer. Initiatives this year include accelerating Big Lots’ next-generation furniture strategy and rolling out the Lots Under $5 treasure impulse buy set following a test in select stores last year. The mix of seasonal and “unique treasures” will rotate every two months. Big Lots will also amplify seasonal, including expanded assortments for pool, plants and fall clean-up. The company logged its second consecutive year with sales over $6 billion and its second best performing year overall.

Wayfair Pro partners with Capital One

Wayfair, a leading home furnishings marketplace, announced that its business program Wayfair Professional has entered into a strategic partnership with Capital One to offer a credit program for its members. With Capital One Trade Credit, Wayfair will offer a Wayfair Professional Credit Card with rewards and a Wayfair Professional Flex Account with extended payment terms. The program will allow Pros to access increased purchasing power and improved payment flexibility as well as online account management tools. “We’re very excited to have partnered with Capital One Trade Credit to begin offering a Wayfair Professional Credit Card and a Wayfair Professional Flex Account, which we expect to roll out later this year,” said Margaret Lawrence, vice president for Wayfair Professional. Lawrence noted that Wayfair Pro members will be able to apply with their business credentials to build business credit, using a suite of business-specific features.

Jewelry & Luxury

After early silence, more luxury brands edge away from Russia over invasion of Ukraine

In the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, most luxury brands stayed mum as they watched their share prices tumble and the European Union swiftly impose sanctions on exports and imports. For Giorgio Armani, silence was the point. During Milan’s fashion week, he cut the music for his runway show, one of the first designers to take a stand against the war, according to Vogue. In a March 1 Instagram post, Vogue Ukraine called for concrete steps by the industry, urging “all international fashion and luxury conglomerates and companies to cease any collaborations” with Russia immediately, name-checking several top fashion companies.

United States Bans Russian Diamonds

On Friday, President Joseph Biden issued an executive order banning imports of a wide range of Russian products, including what it called “nonindustrial diamonds.” The measure is the latest the United States has taken in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is the world’s largest diamond producer by volume and the second-largest by value. Russian diamond producer Alrosa is one-third owned by the government of the Russian Federation. “Obviously, we were all expecting this, and now it’s here,” says Tiffany Stevens, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. “Many people have stopped dealing directly with Russia, but this prohibits any goods of Russian origin from being imported. This is a very strong stance and a clear message, and people should take it seriously. Down the road, we’ll be giving more detail about the nuances on how to conduct business in these new circumstances.”


Gold Goes Wild, Crosses $2,000 Benchmark

Gold went up! Then down! And now, it’s back up—but for how long? Befitting these uncertain times, the yellow metal had a roller-coaster week, first crossing $2,000-an-ounce on Tuesday, then falling sharply on Wednesday, and then crossing the all-important $2,000 benchmark again on Thursday. At the time of publication, the yellow metal’s spot price was $2,004 an ounce, after hovering just below $2,000 for most of the morning. This is the highest level gold has traded at in 19 months. On Tuesday, the price of bullion settled at $2,043.30 an ounce, a near-record closing. (The metal’s all-time high closing price was $2,069.40, which it hit on Aug. 6, 2020.) At one point on Tuesday, the spot price crossed $2,070.

Mejuri Fires Back at David Yurman in Infringement Case

Mejuri has filed a fiery response to David Yurman’s lawsuit, dubbing it an attempt to “bully and stifle an emerging competitor by claiming designs that are ubiquitous in the jewelry industry.” In December, Yurman sued the New York City–based e-tailer, charging that Mejuri products, such as the Croissant Dôme bracelet, Croissant Dôme cuff bracelet, and Croissant Dôme hoops, infringe on Yurman’s Pure Form and Sculpted Cable collections. In a response filed March 4 in Southern District of New York federal court, Mejuri claimed that its designs came from “an independent and rigorous design process that was in no way influenced by Yurman’s products.” The croissant motif was inspired by the French pastry, it asserted—adding that “twist designs have been used in jewelry since at least the Roman Empire.”

Rough Diamond Demand Holds Strong, Says De Beers

De Beers Group’s second sales cycle of the year signaled a continuation of strong rough diamond demand, bolstered by positive consumer sentiment. The company reported $650 million in rough diamond sales between Feb. 21 and March 8. That’s an 18 percent increase compared with its second sales cycle of 2022, which brought in $550 million. “The second sales cycle of the year saw the continuation of robust rough diamond demand underpinned by sustained positive consumer sentiment,” said De Beers Group CEO Bruce Cleaver.


Office & Leisure

Lego revenue jumped 27% in 2021, as kids and adults continue to build

Sales of Lego building kits continued to soar in 2021, as kids and adults stayed home to build “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” models long after the coronavirus lockdown ended. On Tuesday, the privately held Danish toymaker said its annual revenue jumped 27%, reaching $55.3 Danish krone, or about $8.06 billion, up from $43.7 Danish krone, or around $6.36 billion in 2020. Lego was one of the toy companies that saw massive gains during the pandemic, as consumers of all ages gravitated toward its building sets for entertainment. The company touted its diverse selection of toys and their appeal across generations, as well as its e-commerce business to account for the sales surge. Lego noted that as it enters its 90th year, it expects its growth rates to normalize and transition back to the single-digits. During 2021, Lego opened 165 new stores, including 95 in China, bringing its total global store count to 832. China has become one of Lego’s top markets and accounts for 340 stores in its global retail footprint.

Pet Food Maker Wellness Pet Could Launch IPO This Year

Pet food maker Wellness Pet Co. is planning to go public sometime this year, according to a Bloomberg report Tuesday (March 8). The company is backed by Clearlake Capital Group, a private equity firm. The company has three production facilities in the U.S. and the Netherlands, and makes pet foods and treats under various brands, including Wellness, Whimzees, Old Mother Hubbard, Sojos and Eagle Pack. The company, based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, seeks over $600 million in the IPO. That would give the company a value of around $2.5 billion. Wellness Pet is working with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America on the IPO, and the timing of it is not set yet. Wellness Pet’s origins go back to 1926 to a bakery in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The company was acquired in 2020 for an undisclosed amount by Clearlake. It changed its name from WellPet last December.

Singapore toy collectibles startup Mighty Jaxx raises US$20M in funding, now valued at over US$200M

Homegrown toy collectibles startup Mighty Jaxx announced today (March 7) that they have raised US$20 million in their Series A+ funding. This brings its total funding to US$34.8 million, pushing its valuation to over US$200 million. The funding round was led by East Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Jakarta, Indonesia known for investing in tech startups such as Tokopedia, and includes new investors Mirana Ventures, Easternwind International, Pan Solar Ventures and Teja Ventures.  Founded in 2012, the company started out as a solo business that produced and delivered collectable toys, and grew to collaborate with huge brands such as F1, Warner Brothers, Hasbro, and Toei Animation. Since then, the company has also moved into producing tech-enabled collectibles and NFTs. In addition, Mighty Jaxx is also planning to significantly expand its global workforce in the areas of tech, creative and licensing over the next 18 months.

Technology & Internet

Amazon referred to DOJ for potential criminal obstruction of Congress

A House Committee is urging the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon over what lawmakers contend is potentially criminal obstruction of Congress. In a letter sent Wednesday and addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, a bipartisan group of lawmakers alleged that Amazon repeatedly misled the House Judiciary Committee throughout a 16-month probe into the competitive practices of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. In particular, lawmakers have zeroed in on Amazon’s private-label practices and its collection of third-party seller data. Lawmakers claim Amazon has made false and misleading statements to the House Committee about its practices, then refused to turn over evidence that would “either corroborate its claims or correct the record,” according to the 24-page letter. “It appears to have done so to conceal the truth about its use of third-party sellers’ data to advantage its private-label business and its preferencing of private-label products in search results — subjects of the Committee’s investigation.”


Apple event recap: New iPhone SE for $429, iPad Air 2022 unveiled

Spring has arrived early for fans of Apple products. Apple hosted its spring event Tuesday and announced an updated iPhone SE, a budget version of the tech giant’s popular smartphone. It starts at $429 and is available for preorder on Friday. The new phone launches March 18. As wireless companies continue the rollout of their 5G networks and begin shutting down access to 3G, Apple’s new phone could play a big role in 5G adoption, said Anisha Bhatia, senior technology analyst with research firm GlobalData. “iPhone users lack any affordable 5G phones compared with the varied choices available for Android users, so a mid-range 5G iPhone will be a welcome boost for both operators and users,” Bhatia said. Apple also introduced a new iPad Air, starting at $599. It will be available in multiple colors, including space gray, starlight and blue. The new iPad also launches March 18. A new Mac was announced, but probably not the one you expected. Apple unveiled the Mac Studio and Mac Studio Display, a superpowered desktop computer aimed at studio creators. The Mac Studio starts at $1,999, and the Mac Studio Display costs $1,599.


Finance & Economy

Retailers start to warn of business impact from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Rising inflation and global supply chain strains remain top of mind for retailers as they navigate the post-holiday earnings season. But also making its way into conversations with analysts and investors is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which entered its second week.  A number of retailers have temporarily halted operations in Russia, either as a signal of corporate condemnation of the war or because these companies are unable to carry on business in the country due to imposed sanctions impacting logistics.  Some, such as Victoria’s Secret, are warning that uncertainty created by the war could weigh on business in the first quarter and potentially beyond.

Gas prices are now the most expensive in US history, breaking record from 2008

After days of dramatically rising gas prices in wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the national average for a gallon of gas is now the highest in United States history, breaking the record that stood for nearly 14 years.  The cost of regular gas in the U.S. is $4.17, according to AAA. Last week, the average cost was $3.60.  The previous national average high was $4.11, set on July 17, 2008, according to AAA.  The cost for diesel is also nearing the record of $4.84, which was also set in July 2008. The current price for a gallon of diesel is $4.75, over double what it was in October 2020.