We are excitedly counting down the final weeks until the Consensus Great Brands Show (CGBS), which will take place September 25th, at the New York Times TimesCenter in Manhattan – http://greatbrandsshow.com/. With the date of the CGBS approaching, we are using this space each week to profile different companies that will be taking the stage. As we strive to assemble the most compelling slate of participating companies yet in the history of this event, we hope our weekly previews underscore our growing anticipation for this year’s show and give you a head start on learning about these dynamic brands and entrepreneurs.
Two of this year’s presenters share a particular on-trend commonality: they create and sell familiar products that have been rethought and reformulated with innovative, healthier, or more efficacious ingredients. In this way, Hello Products and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream each bring creativity to the everyday.
Hello is on a mission to make the world a friendlier place, starting with your mouth. Founded by Craig Dubitsky and captained by Lauri Kien Kotcher, hello brings a thoughtful line of oral care products to a category that has been boring and thoughtless for a long time. Hello’s lineup includes toothpastes, mouthwashes, brushes and floss for both adults and kids.
Hello has created a wide range of oral care products for both adults and kids that have “no compromises.” Made with thoughtfully sourced ingredients, hello’s products are formulated for maximum effectiveness and are sure to make you smile. All hello products are free of dyes and artificial sweeteners and flavors. Hello’s fluoride toothpastes have the American Dental Association “ADA Accepted” seal, meaning they’re clinically proven to be safe and effective at preventing cavities and protecting enamel. And hello’s best-selling fluoride-free toothpastes have xylitol and erythritol, which are known to help stop bacteria from sticking to your teeth. Made in America with globally sourced ingredients, hello products are gluten free, cruelty-free and never tested on animals.
Hello is the one of the fastest growing toothpaste brands in the US according to IRI. The company’s “activated charcoal” fluoride-free whitening toothpaste is the #1 selling charcoal toothpaste in the U.S., and building on the success of this product, hello has recently introduced four new variants of charcoal toothpaste, as well as a charcoal mouthwash, charcoal infused floss and toothbrushes made with plant-based ingredients and charcoal infused bristles.
“Our mission is to elevate the everyday by bringing effective, delicious, as-natural-as-we-can-make-them products to as many people as possible,” says Kien Kotcher. “Hello is proudly made for the 100%, not the 1%. Transparency is in our nature, and we are constantly striving for ways to innovate formulas that not only work brilliantly, but that take meaningful steps forward in terms of innovative sustainability practices.” Adds Kien Kotcher, “we are also proud to have been recognized as one of the Inc. Best Workplaces in 2019, and we are the only CPG company on this list. We take just as much care in developing our team as we do in developing our extraordinary line of personal care products”.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to have my job. In the middle of a 45-day vegetarian challenge, an investor friend introduced me to Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen and Laura O’Neill, the founders of ice cream company Van Leeuwen. I took our introductory call while in a car driving into Manhattan and, later that evening, was in the new Van Leeuwen store on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village with two of my sons eating some of the best ice cream I ever tasted.
My ice “cream” was vegan – made with housemade raw cashew milk, organic coconut cream, raw organic coconut oil, pure cocoa butter and organic cane sugar – and it was as good as any premium ice cream on the market. For the legion of people who are lactose intolerant or just seeking to have more of a plant-based diet, Van Leeuwen’s vegan line may be the holy grail of ice cream.
For my son who has a nut allergy (and for traditional ice cream lovers generally), Van Leeuwen offers a wide assortment of dairy-based ice cream in familiar flavors. Van Leeuwen’s dairy-based ice cream is anything but traditional, however. Made in small batches with local grass-fed milk and cream, pure cane sugar, and organic egg yolks, this ice cream is both delicious and clean.
Ben Van Leeuwen is scheduled to anchor the Consensus Great Brands Show this year; the last presenter standing between a hungry crowd and samples of their amazing ice cream. Bring your spoon – but please no pushing and shoving. Ben, Pete and Laura are bringing plenty for everyone!
Headlines of the Week
A team of Federal Trade Commission investigators has begun interviewing small businesses that sell products on Amazon.com Inc. to determine whether the ecommerce giant is using its market power to hurt competition. Several attorneys and at least one economist have been conducting interviews that typically last about 90 minutes and cover a range of topics, according to three merchants. All were asked what percentage of revenue their businesses derive from Amazon versus other online marketplaces like Walmart Inc. and eBay Inc., suggesting regulators are skeptical about Amazon’s claims that shoppers and suppliers have real alternatives to the Seattle-based company. The interviews indicate the agency is in the early stages of a sweeping probe to learn how Amazon works, spot practices that break the law and identify markets dominated by the company.
Indoor cycling startup Peloton is looking to raise approximately $1.1 billion as part of its initial public offering, according to a regulatory filing. The company specializes in at-home stationary bikes and treadmills that can be used to participate in subscription-based online workout classes. It proposed to price its shares between $26 and $29 and is offering 40 million shares. It plans to list under the ticker PTON on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Peloton filed paperwork in August for an initial public offering. At that time it sought to raise $500 million but initial amounts often change based on investor demand.
Apparel & Footwear
Madewell, J Crew’s fast-growing denim brand, plans to split from its struggling parent company and hit the public market. The company will be called Madewell Group and wants to list its stock on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, it said in a securities’ filing late Friday. While J Crew is known for selling preppy clothes at high prices, Madewell launched in 2006 as a boutique denim jeans’ brand with tops and jackets that shoppers wear with jeans. Madewell is pitching itself to investors as an inclusive, sustainability-geared brand that has a track record of drawing Millennials. Madewell reached more than $600 million in sales during its 2018 fiscal year, up from $248 million in 2014, according to the filings. As of August, Madewell company operated 132 small US stores, primarily in upscale shopping malls and on city street corners.
WWD, citing multiple unnamed financial sources, is reporting that Herschel Supply is looking for a buyer. Herschel has been growing rapidly since launching nearly 10 years ago, and has begun opening its own stores. The brand is currently going hard after the travel category. In an SES interview in July with co-founders Lyndon and Jamie Cormack, we asked if the brothers wanted to keep the company family-held or if they envisioned selling or taking on outside investors at some point. “The future is going to have to play itself out,” said Lyndon, who spearheads sales strategy, business direction, and operations. “Of course, we’ve had conversations with a bunch of great firms over the last eight years or so and they have been constructive talks. If a deal was to be done at some point it would be about enhancing our capabilities more than we can do ourselves.
Discount clothing chain Primark is betting that opening more and bigger stores will drive sales gains, bucking a trend in which competitors are scaling back their bricks-and-mortar presence. The apparel brand, owned by Associated British Foods Plc, expects new stores in the U.S. and Europe to propel sales for the full year. The strategy runs counter to what other retailers are doing, and not everyone is convinced it can work.
Primark doesn’t even sell online, making it an anomaly in a sector that’s reeling from a shift to e-commerce and leaving behind a landscape of empty storefronts. A new concept store in Birmingham, England, has had a promising start, the company said, and it plans to add a further 1 million square feet of selling space next year. “We are the people investing in the high street and in the U.K. that distinguishes Primark from our competitors,” AB Foods finance director John Bason said.
Tommy John is going all in on its women’s business. After launching women’s underwear last year, the 10-year-old brand came out with its first collection of bras on Thursday, after spending two years testing 207 prototypes to get the design just right. The shift into a new category isn’t a surprise, considering nearly every direct-to-consumer brand is doing so these days, but Tommy John believes its women’s business could be the key to success in a crowded underwear market. The move goes against the grain, considering — rather than white space — the brand is inching into an area already littered with DTC brands, from Lively to ThirdLove. Tommy John’s move to women’s seems a direct response to where consumers are spending their money: While the men’s underwear market reached roughly $5.9 billion in 2018, women’s reached about $13 billion, up from about $10.8 billion in 2013, per market research provider, Euromonitor.
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Self Esteem Brands, the parent company of Anytime Fitness, has purchased The Bar Method – a popular, low-impact fitness franchise with 123 studios across 30 states and Canada. Self Esteem Brands will initially offer new franchise territories throughout North America, while exploring additional franchising opportunities internationally. The Bar Method was developed by founder Burr Leonard and its flagship studio opened in San Francisco in 2001. Self Esteem Brands is supported in its expansion efforts by Roark Capital.
Top U.S. bowling alley operator Bowlero Corp. has purchased the sport’s governing body, the Professional Bowlers Association, as both organizations look to build on the venerable pastime’s recent momentum. The company, which operates more than 300 centers in North America, under the Bowlero, AMF, Brunswick Zone and Bowlmor Lanes brands, said it plans to integrate the PBA’s pool of pro bowlers and fan base into its operations. Existing PBA events and tournaments will proceed as scheduled, as will the PBA’s multi-year television deal with Fox Sports.
PRADCO Outdoor Brands, a world leader in top-name fishing and hunting products, announced that it has acquired Gene Larew Lures, a Tulsa, Okla., company that manufactures and sells fishing lures under its Gene Larew, Bobby Garland and Crappie Pro brands. Gene Larew and Bobby Garland were two early day pioneers of the soft plastic lure industry.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
Fred’s Inc., the general merchandiser and pharmacy chain, has filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and commenced liquidation sales at all retail locations. In a statement, Fred’s said it entered into a proposed debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing agreement with certain of the company’s existing lenders, which would provide for up to $35 million in new funding. The company is committed to ensuring an orderly wind-down of its operations, and has commenced liquidation sales at all retail locations, which are expected to close over the next 60 days. The company expects to continue fulfilling pharmacy prescriptions at most of its pharmacy locations, while it continues to pursue the sale of its pharmacies as part of the court supervised proceedings.
Another suitor has emerged for Vitamin Shoppe. The nutritional products retailer said it received a buyout bid from a third party during the “go-shop” period as part of the acquisition agreement with Liberty Tax Inc. Vitamin Shoppe did not name the new bidder. In August, Vitamin Shoppe said it had agreed to be acquired by Liberty Tax in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $208 million. Under the terms of the deal, Vitamin Shoppe shareholders will receive $6.50 per share, which represented a premium of 43% to its closing share price of $4.54 on August 7, 2019. As part of the agreement, Vitamin Shoppe had been seeking competing bids from what it said was a range of strategic and financial entities. Vitamin Shoppe said it expects the new buyout bid is “reasonably likely” to lead to a “superior proposal” to the Liberty Tax deal and that it intends to engage in negotiations with the new bidder regarding its acquisition proposal.
Discounters & Department Stores
Walmart will expand its Delivery Unlimited grocery delivery membership to 1,400 more stores in 200 markets this fall, according to a company press release. Membership pricing will remain at $98 for a yearly subscription or $12.95 per month. Earlier this year, Walmart began piloting Delivery Unlimited in Houston, Salt Lake City, Miami and Tampa. The company said it has decided to expand the program based on positive customer response. The delivery membership will be available to more than half the country at more than 1,600 stores by year’s end, Walmart said. The membership includes a free 15-day trial. Shoppers also have the option to pay a fee-per-delivery without a membership.
J.C. Penney is launching a line of outerwear for men through its St. John’s Bay private label, according to a press release. St. John’s Bay Outdoor launches at 600 of the retailer’s stores beginning Thursday. It includes shirts, jackets, pants, vests, sweaters and other performance products. Along with the new line, Penney plans to open a store-within-a-store concept called the Outdoor Shop in 100 stores that features St. John’s Bay Outdoor products as well as items from American Threads, The American Outdoorsman and Hi-Tec. The Outdoor Shop will launch in select stores and the J.C. Penney’s website on Oct. 4.
Emerging Consumer Companies
Magic Spoon, the keto-friendly, better-for-you cereal brand, announced a $5.5 million seed round. The round was led by Lightspeed Venture partners and includes Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger, Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider, Warby Parker co-founders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, and FabFitFun co-founders Michael Broukhim and Daniel Broukhim. The New York-based company offers high-protein, low-carb cereal in four flavors – frosted, cinnamon, fruity and cocoa – and today is only available online.
Neighborhood Goods, the two-year-old, Dallas-based “new department store” where brands can carve out dedicated shelf space to sell product announced $11 million in new funding from Global Founders Capital, Forerunner Ventures, and Serena Ventures. The company has now raised $25.5 million to date. It also announced that that it will open its third location in 2020 in Austin, Texas – a 10,000-square-foot unit that will serve as a model for future expansion.
Oars + Alps, the Chicago-based skincare company, startup that makes skincare products for men, has been acquired by S.C. Johnson. Sources indicated that the company was acquired for $20 million. Oars + Alps makes men’s skincare products made with natural and toxin-free ingredients, including deodorant, moisturizer, and body wash. S.C. Johnson was founded more than 130 years ago and owns brands like Ziploc, Windex and Raid.
Grocery & Restaurants
The Wendy’s Co. will expand its breakfast menu, now in 300 restaurants, throughout its U.S. system in 2020, the company said. To support the expansion into breakfast, the company said it and its franchisees plan to hire about 20,000 crew members. The company estimated investment in breakfast would be about $20 million. Wendy’s has discussed a breakfast rollout in the past, but this is the first systemwide effort. Wendy’s has about 6,700 restaurants worldwide.
Luby’s Inc.’s board has created a special committee of directors to look at strategic alternatives, the company said late Tuesday. The Houston-based parent to the Luby’s Cafeteria chain and the fast-casual Fuddruckers burger brand said the special committee of six directors would identify, examine and consider all strategic options. The formation of the special committee followed a January proxy fight in which Luby’s shareholders elected the company’s slate of nine board nominees and rejected four director candidates nominated by Bandera Partners LLC, a New York hedge fund that owned about 9.8 percent of Luby’s shares. The company continues to sell off company-owned Fuddruckers restaurants to franchise groups.
Huddle House Inc. agreed to buy 342 Perkins Restaurant & Bakery locations, the company said Thursday. The Atlanta-based family-dining brand said it expected the deal to close on Oct. 21. Terms were not disclosed. In early August, Perkins & Marie Callender’s Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection. Huddle House said the two brands would generate more than $800 million in sales.
On Wednesday, US Foods Holding Corp. received conditional approval from the Federal Trade Commission to acquire SGA’s Food Group of Companies (SGA Food Group) for $1.8 billion in cash. The approval comes after months of antitrust debates. The companies expected to be acquired are Food Services of America, Inc. (FSA), Systems Services of America, Inc., Amerifresh, Inc., Ameristar Meats, Inc. and GAMPAC Express, Inc. US Foods expects to close the acquisition in the next few days. Under the proposed consent agreement, US Foods must divest three FSA distribution centers within 30 days of the acquisition closing.
Swander Pace Capital announced that it has acquired Café Valley, a leading manufacturer of croissants, cakes, muffins, and other sweet baked goods to retail and foodservice channels across the United States and Canada. Café Valley is one of the largest independent wholesale bakeries in the United States serving the In-Store Bakery (ISB), Club Store, Mass Merchandise, Foodservice, and Convenience-Store segments. Since its founding in 1986, the company has experienced rapid growth through a combination of product innovation, new customer development, and significant investment in two state-of-the art production facilities in Phoenix, AZ and Marion, IN.
Home & Road
Success for furniture retailers Labor Day weekend depended largely on how close their stores were to the path of Hurricane Dorian. For Florida retailers, the important holiday weekend was sharply disrupted — despite escaping the brunt of the storm — as stores closed and consumers evacuated or otherwise prepared for the worst. But elsewhere, retailers reported strong holiday weekend sales, sometimes setting records. Some retailers reported the mattress category was the standout, even as a securities analyst report suggested that segment was down across the country. Hurricane Dorian has been “the talk of the town,” not just in Southeast and Central Florida, but even on the Gulf Coast, said Andrew Koenig, president of Tamarac, Fla.-based City Furniture. “So it’s definitely dramatically impacted our business, both sales and traffic,” he said. Koenig declined to offer sales figures but called the impact “huge.”
Luxury home furnishings retailer RH reported a 10.3% jump in fiscal second quarter revenues, along with gains in earnings and adjusted earnings, blowing past industry estimates and citing the strength of its core business, new stores and other steps it has taken to fuel both the top and bottom lines. Net revenues for the quarter ended Aug. 3 increased to $706.5 million from $640.8 million for the same period a year ago. Net income increased 1% to $63.8 million from $62.9 million. On a per-share basis, net income increase to $2.86 from $2.29. According to a Seeking Alpha post, the company beat revenue estimates by $8.78 million and adjusted earnings per share by 50 cents.
After 25 years at Portmeirion, Lawrence Bryan has retired as chief executive, effective Sept. 2. He remains on the board as a non-executive director. Bill Robedee, president of Nambé, which Portmeirion acquired in July, was named president of the U.S. division in August and will continue the integration of the two brands and U.S. operations, Portmeirion’s UK parent said. Wendy Bryan, executive vice president of Portmeirion Group USA and Lawrence Bryan’s wife, has also retired. Mike Raybould, group finance director, has been appointed chief executive of the parent company, Portmeirion Group. David Sproston, previously group financial controller and finance director of Portmeirion Group UK Limited, the Group’s main trading subsidiary, becomes group finance director.
Jewelry & Luxury
At a Sept. 5 meeting in New York City, Sotheby’s shareholders okayed the $3.7 billion takeover of the auction house by BidFair USA. The acquisition was first announced in June. BidFair USA is wholly owned by Patrick Drahi, a French-Israeli businessman who owns a variety of telecom and media companies, including Cablevision and internet service provider Optimum. Drahi is also an art collector who has been an occasional client of the company, according to a proxy statement filed Aug. 7 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The sale is now on track to close in the fourth quarter of 2019. Under the deal, every Sotheby’s shareholder will receive $57 a share, a 61% premium to when the acquisition was announced on June 14.
Al-Hebo Jewelry Co., which has locations in Turkey and Syria, has been slapped with sanctions by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for allegedly providing support to the terrorist group ISIS. Al-Hebo Jewelry Co. is also known as Al-Habu Jewelry, Al-Habu Jewelry and Money Exchange, and Al-Habu Money Exchange, the Treasury Department said. Tiffany Stevens, president and chief executive officer of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, says she was surprised to see the Treasury Department single out a jewelry company—even one that is based overseas and is hard to track down (it has no presence on Google).
James Avery Artisan Jewelry has appointed a new chief executive officer—the first person outside the founder’s family to head the company. Chris Avery, son of the company’s founder and namesake, is retiring as CEO, a role he has held since 2007. He will remain chairman of the company’s board. He first joined the company in 1992. John McCullough, who currently serves as chief operating officer, will take over the CEO role. He joined the company in 2006.
Office & Leisure
Plans to revive the Toys “R” Us banner in the U.S. are gaining momentum with the appointment of a veteran from the bankrupt chain to lead the new initiative. Tru Kids Brands, which bought certain intellectual property of Toys “R” Us after the chain’s bankruptcy filing last year, and tech-driven experiential retailer b8ta have named Jamie Uitdenhowen as president of their joint venture — called Toy Retail Showrooms — to operate and manage Toys “R” Us stores in the U.S. He joins the company from Party City, which he joined in 2017 as chief merchandising officer. Prior to that, Uitdenhowen served as VP, general manager for Toys “R” Us, overseeing all merchandising decisions. He spent more than 18 years with the retailer. With a 6,500-sq.-ft. footprint, the stores will utilize B8ta’s experiential retail model to create an engaging and interactive in-store experience. They will operate the same as B8ta’s branded stores — brands will pay for shelf space, with all sales revenue going back to the brand (manufacturer).
The craft and fabric specialty retailer is aiming its new online subscription box at science-loving kids. Joann is partnering with children’s multimedia company GoldieBlox and tween-focused toy company Make It Real to offer the GoldieBlox Box. This exclusive, curated monthly craft subscription box is designed to encourage the development of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in kids ages eight and up. Each monthly box will be filled with materials for science-based projects to be created and enjoyed at home, complemented with facts about the STEM behind each project. The projects are inspired by the most popular, trending DIY “hacks” and projects from the GoldieBlox YouTube channel.
GameStop’s second quarter sales fell more than 14% to $1.3 billion, with comparable sales down 11.6%. In announcing its earnings, the retailer also outlined key tenets of its strategic plan, dubbed “GameStop Reboot.” The plan hinges on making GameStop’s core business more efficient, turning itself into a cultural hub for gaming, building out a digital platform and seeking out higher-margin revenue streams through its vendor partnerships. Each quarter seems to raise the urgency level of GameStop’s transformation efforts. Its dreadful Q2 succeeds a first quarter that brought a 13% drop in sales. As game sales and formats drift toward digital channels, the risk is that GameStop becomes the next Blockbuster or Toys R Us. Its recent performance shines a light on that risk, which makes executing a transformation all the more important and pressure-filled.
Technology & Internet
Apple kicked off its annual fall product launch on Tuesday where it unveiled new iPhones, Apple Watches and an iPad, as well as new details about Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade. The company debuted a trio of new smartphones, including the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. All three devices appear similar to their predecessors, but Apple has upgraded their respective camera systems to allow for wide-angle photos, while making improvements under the hood that result in a longer battery life and faster performance than before. Apple also rolled out the Watch Series 5, which features a new always-on display. Prior to that, the company unexpectedly announced a new seventh-generation iPad. In addition to new hardware, Apple also revealed launch dates and pricing for its much-anticipated Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade subscription services. Both services cost $4.99 per month, which undercuts competitors like Disney’s streaming platform, Disney+, and Google’s cloud gaming service, Stadia.
Ecommerce platform provider Shopify Inc. will acquire 6 River Systems Inc., a robotics warehouse fulfillment vendor, for $450 million, Shopify announced this week. The vendor’s cloud-based software and mobile robots named “Chuck” will be added to Shopify’s Fulfillment Network and will help Shopify’s warehouse associates with daily tasks, including inventory replenishment, picking, sorting and packing. Shopify expects this to increase the speed and reliability of its warehouse operations and is a “critical step to accelerate its growth,” Shopify says.
Finance & Economy
Consumer borrowing surged in July at its fastest pace since late 2017, driven by a big jump credit card use. The large July gain was led by a sizable increase in borrowing in the category covering credit cards, which rose by $10 billion in July after having fallen by $186 million in June. Borrowing in the category that covers auto and student loans also posted a sizable gain, rising by $13.3 billion in July following a $14 billion June increase. Consumer borrowing is closely watched for signs it provides about consumer spending.
The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell to a five-month low last week, suggesting the labor market remains strong despite slowing job growth. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 204,000 for the week ended Sept. 7, the lowest level since April, the Labor Department said. The drop in claims was the largest since May. The claims data covered the Labor Day holiday. Claims tend to be volatile around public holidays and the sharp drop last week could be exaggerating labor market strength.
U.S. retail sales rose moderately in August, driven higher by a jump in auto buying and healthy online sales. But there were also signs that consumers have become more cautious. The modest slowdown follows signs that consumer confidence, while still strong, has slipped a bit as the U.S.-China trade war has intensified. U.S. businesses have cut back on their investment and expansion plans amid the trade war’s uncertainty and exports have declined. That has left consumers as a key source of growth.