The Big Story

This Christmas, Tech Is Under the Tree and On the Table

Consensus

One recent weekend, my family and I visited friends at their home for dinner. While our toddlers played together, I was able to take in the awesome tech setup my friend has created in his home. I was astonished by how he can manipulate seemingly everything in his home from his smart phone or tablet. Whether he gives the command by voice, remote control, or touchscreen, he can control his lighting, home security, home theater, smart speakers, thermostat, and more. My son was pleasantly surprised to see that the playroom light can change to any color on demand. While many of us haven’t put that many systems in our home onto a wireless network (yet), we all use technology constantly. It is even easier than usual to notice our modern conveniences during the Holiday Season, as we order gifts on Amazon, FaceTime with loved ones, and upload pictures to social media. Yet, as we sit down for Holiday meals with loved ones, the average consumer probably does not realize that technology similar to what we are using in our homes has also helped deliver the meals on our plates.

Much as it has done in our homes, technology has revolutionized the day-to-day lives and work of farmers. From the invention of the plow to the advent of GPS-driven precision farming equipment, humans have developed new ways to make farming more efficient and productive. Advancements have come bit by bit throughout modern human history, but innovations in agriculture really began to pick up steam in the second half of the last century, and today we find ourselves in an explosion of technological developments. A flurry of recent M&A is a testament to this dynamic growth, from John Deere’s recent $250M acquisition of Blue River Robotics to BayoTech’s $157M equity raise. Agriculture technology attracted $6.7 billion of investment from 2016 to 2020, including $1.9 billion in 2020, but venture funding of AgTech startups in 2021 through Q3 was $7.8 billion, 15% higher than the prior five years combined, according to Pitchbook.

There are significant technological innovations underway in many areas of agriculture, but to explore just a few, take the examples of indoor vertical farming, data analytics, and precision agriculture. In indoor farming, as the term implies, farmers are seeking to insulate crops from environmental stressors such as pests, disease, and extreme weather events. In addition, indoor farms allow farmers to grow using considerably less land and far fewer resources, expanding the map of where humanity can grow food. Meanwhile, farming-focused data analytics are helping to improve plant hardiness and efficiency. For example, by combining data analytics and hybrid breeding processes, short-stature corn has been developed to stand at the ideal height to avoid damage in windy conditions, as well as to pair perfectly with combine equipment during harvest. Both of these changes help prevent food loss in the field. Lastly, precision farming uses advancements in rural broadband connectivity, telematics, and guidance technology to enable site-specific crop management. This process leverages deep insights into specific crops and fields to improve yields. Farmers today can even track the amount of carbon that is getting stored in their soil.

Technology in our homes is a little easier to appreciate around the Holidays, especially when new gadgets and devices are given as gifts and turned on for the first time. But as those items lose their shiny new luster over the following days and weeks, remember that there is technology not only behind the presents on Christmas morning, but also behind the three meals a day that will fuel us to next year.

Headlines of the Week

Future Meat Closes $347 Million Funding Round

Israeli food tech company Future Meat announced it has raised $347 million in Series B funding co-led by ADM Ventures, the investment arm of global food processing company Archer-Daniels-Midland, with participation from Menora Mivtachim, S2G Ventures, Tyson New Ventures, among others. The company also announced it has accelerated past cost reduction timelines for its cultivated chicken breast and plans to bring large-scale production to the United States. “This financing consolidates Future Meat’s position as the leading player in the cultivated meat industry, just three years after our launch,” said Professor Yaakov Nahmias, founder and president of Future Meat, in a press release. “Our singular technology reduced production costs faster than anyone thought possible, paving the way for a massive expansion of operations. Our team will break ground on the first-of-its-kind, large-scale production facility in the United States in 2022.”

 

MGM Resorts to sell Mirage hotel and casino for $1.08 bln to Hard Rock

MGM Resorts International said it would sell the operations of the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas to Hard Rock International for about $1.08 billion in cash. The Mirage opened in 1989 and was acquired by MGM Resorts in 2000. The property is known for its entertainment options and 90-foot Strip-side volcano. The sale is expected to close in the second half of 2022 and is likely to deliver to MGM Resorts net cash proceeds of about $815 million after taxes and fees. The company will retain the Mirage name and brand, licensing them to Hard Rock royalty-free for up to three years while it finalizes its plans to re-brand the property.

 

 

Apparel & Footwear

Foot Locker launches women’s apparel brand

Continuing its focus on clothing, Foot Locker last week announced the launch of its first proprietary womenswear brand, Cozi. The collection will be available in stores and online at Foot Locker, Foot Locker Canada, Foot Locker Europe, and Champ Sports, with exclusive styles and colors available at select locations, according to the announcement. The retailer has tapped multiple people, including singer and songwriter Sy’rai Smith, skateboarder and community organizer Briana King, content creator Ilianna Ayala Garcia and photographer Christina Paik, to promote the brand, the company said. Priced between $35 and $50, the collection will feature items like high-rise joggers, wide-leg sweatpants and quarter zip pullover tops and hoodies and will range in sizes between XS to 3x, per the press release. Cozi follows the October introduction of clothing line Lckr and the November launch of lifestyle brand All City by Just Don with Don C.

Zara owner and H&M bounce back from pandemic blues

Sales at Zara owner Inditex and rival H&M are back at pre-pandemic levels or better, as the world’s top two fashion retailers ride a recovery in demand despite supply chain challenges. Spain’s Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, said on Wednesday sales at constant currencies were up 10% on 2019 levels in the quarter to the end of October, and had continued at that rate up to Dec. 10, helped by strong online demand. Smaller Swedish rival Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) said sales in local currencies matched pre-pandemic levels from September through November. “The recovery continues to gain momentum,” Inditex’s Capital Markets director Marcos Lopez said in a statement. “The main short term risk we see for Inditex is further restrictions on stores and travel flows due to the Omicron variant, especially in southern Europe,” said RBC analyst Richard Chamberlain.

Boohoo says surge in dress returns set to hit profits

Boohoo has said a surge in customers returning smarter clothes such as dresses is likely to hit its sales and profits this year. The online retailer said it had sold an “exceptionally high” proportion of dresses in the quarter to November. A Boohoo spokeswoman said people were more likely to return expensive clothing from its brands such as Karen Millen and Coast. It added overseas delivery delays and higher shipping costs will hit profits. As a result, Boohoo now expects earnings to grow by 6-7% in the year to February, compared to previous forecasts of a 9-9.5% increase, and has nearly halved its forecast for sales growth. Laura Hoy, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Boohoo’s results this morning seem to back up UK Chief Medical Officer Christ Whitty’s assumption that people are de-prioritising some social gatherings in light of the Omicron variant. “The fast-fashion clothing retailer saw return rates spike in the UK, with an exceptionally high mix of dresses being sent back.”

How Shoe Carnival became a billion-dollar brand — and counting

Shoe Carnival is ripping up its playbook — and its carpet. “We are transforming from a traditional value shop — carpeted, flat imagery, you know, a basic, average experience — to saying, ‘We want Shoe Carnival to be the most differentiated customer experience when you’re in our store,'” Chief Executive Officer Mark Worden, who took the reins in September, said by phone. “Because we believe the winners will be those that can motivate a customer to get off of their phone and come in and have a truly fun shopping experience. And Shoe Carnival’s committed to the investment to make it happen.” After seeing new customers flock to its revamped stores, the footwear retailer recently expedited its remodeling project. In its most recent quarter, its “Shoe Perks” loyalty program expanded over 10% year over year, with total membership over 28.5 million, according to a company press release. In the first nine months of the year, ended Oct. 30, the company once again notched over a billion dollars in net sales, after falling to $722.9 million in the same period last year. The company has raised its outlook for the year, anticipating net sales to land at about $1.29 billion, or just under.

Prince Signs License for Footwear With Pajar Canada

Prince is expanding its reach into the lifestyle footwear space. The racquet sports-inspired brand, which is owned by brand management firm Authentic Brands Group, has licensed Pajar Canada to produce footwear under the Prince name. The collection will include off-the-court sport-inspired models that will feature heritage woven labels, terrycloth linings, lightweight injected comfort insoles along with vibrantly colored slides featuring the brand’s well-known logo. The men’s and women’s footwear will be available at select specialty retailers, department stores and online beginning in next summer. ABG acquired Prince Sports out of bankruptcy in 2010 by absorbing $65 million in debt. The brand was founded in 1970. Pajar Canada is a fifth generation family shoe business founded in 1963 and based in Montreal. It manufactures, wholesales and retails footwear and outerwear.

 

Athletic & Sporting Goods

Nike acquires virtual sneakers and crypto collectibles startup RTFKT

In October, Nike filed trademark applications as part of its preparations to sell virtual sneakers and apparel, according to CNBC. Now, the footwear and sports apparel giant has acquired a startup called RTFKT (pronounced “artifact”) that will help the company accelerate its “digital transformation.” RTFKT was founded in early 2020 and has since made a name for itself designing and creating what it calls “Metaverse-ready sneakers and collectibles” — all digital goods people pay very real money for.   Earlier this year, RTFKT teamed up with 18-year-old artist Fewocious to release three NFT sneakers for $3,000, $5,000 and $10,000. Within just seven minutes, over 600 people purchased their own virtual pairs for a total of US$3.1 million.

Unicorn corporate fitness startup Gympass acquires online personal training company Trainiac

Gympass, a corporate fitness platform, has acquired Trainiac, a Seattle startup that makes software to facilitate 1-on-1 online training workouts.  Gympass, which raised $220 million in June, will now provide users with access to personal training via Trainiac. Founded in 2016 by former Microsoft and Facebook employees, Trainiac’s app connects people with certified personal trainers who run individualized workouts and create plans to meet goals and provide accountability.  Gympass said the deal will help meet demand from corporate clients that are looking to support “an increasingly decentralized workforce.”

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Eurazeo Acquires Controlling Stake in Clean Beauty Brand Beekman 1802

Eurazeo, a global investment group, is acquiring a controlling stake in Beekman 1802, a high growth clean beauty brand offering a line of premium skin care and body care products that leverage microbiome science and harness the benefits of goat milk. Eurazeo is investing $62 million out of a total of $92 million to acquire a majority stake alongside co-investors Cohesive Capital Partners and the Cherng Family Trust. Founded in 2009 by Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell in Sharon Springs, New York, Beekman has grown into a successful omnichannel brand with a diverse array of beauty wellness products. Eurazeo’s investment will support the continued expansion of Beekman 1802 across multiple channels, categories, and geographies, leveraging and further enhancing the brand’s storytelling capabilities and products.

Gisou Prepares for Series B Fundraise, Launches Products for Skin

Honey-infused hair care brand Gisou has been expanding rapidly with investment from Vaultier7, and is now looking to raise more cash as it builds its wholesale, and direct-to-consumer, businesses. With their sights set on building a 100 million euro business by the end of 2023, beauty influencer Negin Mirsalehi and her partner Maurits Stibbe are branching into new categories and regions and preparing for a Series B funding round for their honey-based brand Gisou. Gisou has seen rapid growth since early 2020 when Vaultier7 made a multimillion-dollar minority investment in the hair care start-up, which began as a direct-to-consumer proposition. Now, with plans to expand on the wholesale and direct-to-consumer fronts; new products in the pipeline, and a lively M&A environment for beauty, the founders said it’s time to tap the markets once again.

 

Discounters & Department Stores

Strip centers outpacing traditional malls as physical retail recovers

The commercial property values of open-air strip centers, which rose 13% since before the pandemic, are drastically outpacing traditional malls, where values edged up 1%, according to a report from Green Street. Malls have seen the most precipitous declines in value among all commercial property types since 2018, according to the report. Vacancy rates help explain that. Pre-pandemic, the average mall vacancy rate was 4.9%; in Q2 this year that rose 230 basis points to 7.2%. The impact at open-air centers was milder — up 90 basis points at neighborhood centers, up 80 basis points at power centers and up just 60 basis points at strip centers, according to a report from JLL.

Neiman Marcus Group pushes back against e-commerce split

Neiman Marcus Group on Wednesday dismissed the idea of separating its e-commerce from its brick-and-mortar operations. The previous day, the New York Post reported that it is mulling the spinoff of its online operations and its Bergdorf Goodman banner. In comments to the media sent by email, CEO Geoffroy Van Raemdonck sought to contrast the retailer’s strategy with that of Saks Fifth Avenue, which split its online and offline operations earlier this year. “That’s not … for us,” he said. Activist investors who favor separation as a way to unlock value have so far reserved it for department stores, which several observers perceive as a sign of that sector’s weakness.

Dollar Tree hits back at activist investor seeking board revamp

Flanked by activist investor Mantle Ridge, Dollar Tree called out the fund in public statements in recent days, adding tension to the fight over the discounter’s leadership and go-forward strategy. Dollar Tree said Mantle Ridge, which holds a 5.7% stake in the company, had acted in an “unwarrantedly aggressive and hostile manner” after Mantle Ridge notified the company of its intent to nominate an entirely new board. Dollar Tree’s statement follows a Dec. 2 in-person meeting between the company’s board and Mantle Ridge founder and CEO Paul Hilal, along with former Dollar General CEO Richard Dreiling, whom Mantle Ridge is trying to install in a leadership position at Dollar Tree.

Target CEO addresses omicron, wages and shopper habits

Target is heading into the final stretch of the holiday season with lots of momentum. CEO Brian Cornell reports that holiday sales have continued to stay strong even amid worries about the new omicron variant. Like its big box rivals, Target has been able to defy industrywide challenges like labor shortages, inflation and supply chain snarls as the discounter keeps its shelves full and arms itself with a full seasonal staff of 100,000. Under Cornell’s stewardship, Target had been accelerating its online services such as curbside pickup and same-day services while sprucing up its stores well before the pandemic. The company raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2020, a commitment it pledged in 2017 and well ahead of many grocery rivals. Still, Cornell predicts that supply chain issues will be around for several years, and he is monitoring to see how inflation will affect shopping habits at Target.

 

 

Emerging Consumer Companies

Rebag raises $35 million

Rebag, the luxury resale retailer, announced a $33 million Series E funding round led by private equity firm Novator, with participation from existing investors including General Catalyst. The new round brings the company’s total funding raised to $101 million. Rebag will use the new funds to further build upon the tech tools it has developed,  including its proprietary software solution, Claire (short for Comprehensive Luxury Appraisal Index for Resale). The solution is equipped with a universal taxonomy and condition grades that act as a standard pricing reference for resellers worldwide. Rebag currently has nine physical stores, including four locations in New York City; two in Miami; two in California; and one in Connecticut.

Lume, deodorant brand, acquired by Harry’s 

Harry’s announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Lumē Deodorant, a doctor-developed, direct-to-consumer brand that offers products to manage odor wherever people experience it on their bodies. Created by Dr. Shannon Klingman, a board certified obstetrician gynecologist, Klingman discovered that external odor all over the body has the same root cause and developed Lumē to myth-bust the origin of all-over body odor and give all humans the confidence to live free from odor and self-doubt. This is the first acquisition for Harry’s Labs, the innovation engine within Harry’s.

PetPlate raises $19 million 

PetPlate, a leader in the burgeoning human-grade, fresh-cooked pet food market, announced a $19 million Series B funding round. The round was led by Pendulum, with follow-on investment from existing investors DF Enterprises and 301 INC. Other investors include Conversion Venture Capital (CVC2), plus existing investors Marco Polo, Inc., Fernbrook Capital Management and Amity Supply. PetPlate sells ready-to-eat meals and organic treats and supplements for dogs through an online subscription service and the independent pet retail channel. The new funding will be used to scale marketing, product development, and retail expansion.

 

 

Food & Beverage

Hain Celestial to acquire Parmcrisps and Thinsters snack brands

The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. plans to acquire the Parmcrisps and Thinsters snack brands from the private equity firm Clearlake Capital Group LP, Santa Monica, Calif., for $259 million.  Parmcrisps are formulated using Parmesan cheese and available in a variety of flavors. Thinsters are reduced-calorie, bite-size cookies that are marketed as clean label.  Clearlake Capital acquired the brands in 2014.   The acquisition of the snack brands aligns with Hain Celestial’s Hain 3.0 business plan, which focuses on snacks, meat alternatives and diary alternatives as the three growth categories for the company.

Plant based brand Oddlygoo Global raises $28 million

Oddlygood Global, a processor of oat-based milks and yogurts as well as plant-based cheese and other dairy alternatives, has raised $28 million in funding from the private equity division of Mandatum Asset Management, Helsinki, Finland.  Oddlygood was founded as a part of Finnish food company Valio, which in the U.S. also has the Finlandia Cheese line of products. Oddlygood was spun off as its own company this past spring but Valio has continued to be the company’s majority shareholder.  Currently Oddlygood’s non-dairy milks, yogurts and cheeses are sold in Finland, Sweden, the U.K, Russia and other Baltic countries. The company claims its sales have doubled every year since its inception in 2018.   Oddlygood expanded into the U.S. market earlier this year, opening a headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey. To-date, the company has only sold its cheeses to U.S. foodservice providers, with a focus on pizza shops. As part of the funding, Oddlygood will finish construction on its Northern California plant, which will produce Oddlygood Oat yogurt, with an aim to ramp up sales in 2022.

JM Smucker to sell RW Knudsen and TruRoots brands

Private equity firm Nexus Capital Management LP is acquiring the R.W. Knudsen and TruRoots businesses from the J.M. Smucker Co. as well as entering into a licensing agreement for Santa Cruz Organic beverages. The transaction is valued at approximately $110 million.  The agreement also includes the acquisition of manufacturing plants in Chico, Calif., and Havre de Grace, Md. It does not include the Santa Cruz Organic nut butters, fruit spreads, syrups or applesauce businesses.  The combined brands had sales of approximately $140 million, according to J.M. Smucker, which is based in Orrville, Ohio.  R.W. Knudsen is a manufacturer of fruit and vegetable juices. TruRoots is a processor of grain-, bean- and seed-based products.

 

 

Grocery & Restaurants

Fazoli’s and Firehouse Subs officially under new ownership

Two key transactions in the quick-service restaurant category closed on Dec. 16 — FAT (Fresh. Authentic. Tasty.) Brands Inc.’s acquisition of Fazoli’s and Restaurant Brands International Inc.’s acquisition of Firehouse Restaurant Group Inc. Toronto-based RBI’s $1 billion purchase of Firehouse Subs was first announced in mid-November. Founded in 1994 by brothers and former firefighters Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen, Firehouse Subs has approximately 1,200 quick-service sandwich shops across 46 US states, Canada and Puerto Rico, and is expected to generate approximately $1.1 billion in systemwide sales this year. Franchisees own and operate 97% of the brand’s restaurants. The chain offers hot sandwiches featuring steamed meats and cheeses on a toasted sub roll, plus chopped salads, chili and soups. FAT, meanwhile, paid $130 million to acquire Fazoli’s from Sentinel Capital Partners. The transaction was first announced in early November. Headquartered in Lexington, Ky., Fazoli’s operates more than 200 restaurants serving freshly prepared pasta, Submarinos sandwiches, salads, pizza, breadsticks and desserts. Founded in 1988, Fazoli’s is the largest premium quick-service Italian chain in the United States and currently has plans to develop 100 units over the next several years.

More Starbucks stores make moves to unionize after labor victory in Buffalo

Two Starbucks stores in Boston filed a petition to vote on unionizing with the National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 13 following the labor organization’s victory in Buffalo. N.Y. last week. Additionally, three more stores in Buffalo have begun the process of unionizing, according to SBWorkers United, joining the newly unionized Buffalo store and other locations in Arizona that have are also looking to organize. “We are organizing a union in Boston because we believe that this is the best way to contribute meaningfully to our partnership with the company,” a letter sent by Starbucks workers in the two Boston locations to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson says. “We want to ensure that our voices are heard and that we have equal power to affect positive change for our store, district and company.” In response to request for comment, Starbucks pointed to the letter sent to employees by Kevin Johnson which states that, “we respect the process that is underway and, independent of any outcome in these elections, we will continue to stay true to our mission and values.”

Home & Road

Food52 acquires home décor brand

In a bid to be the next-generation cooking and home company, Food52 has entered into an agreement to acquire home décor and lighting company Schoolhouse for $48 million in cash and stock. The food and lifestyle company has also raised an incremental investment funded by its majority investor, TCG. Schoolhouse, founded by Brian Faherty in 2003 and based in Portland, Ore., is known for its “modern heirlooms” with products ranging from iconic lighting to exclusive clocks, prints and rugs that are locally manufactured in a brick factory. Food52 said it plans to preserve the Schoolhouse brand, retain its existing jobs, and keep the company’s roots in the heart of Portland, while expanding its product assortment and storytelling across Schoolhouse’s channels.

RH details more global store expansion; luxury yacht, gulfstream jet for hire

RH (formerly known as Restoration Hardware) delivered another stellar quarter that topped expectations despite supply chain disruption. The luxe home furnishings retailer also reported that it will begin its global expansion in 2022 with the opening of RH England, at Aynhoe Park, a 73-acre historic estate in Banbury, England. RH said it has secured locations for stores (“galleries”) in London, Paris, Munich and Dusseldorf, and is in lease or purchase negotiations for ones in Milan, Madrid, Brussels and France. Calling 2022 “the year of the new,” chairman and CEO Gary Friedman detailed the company’s upcoming initiatives, which, in addition to the opening of its first global outpost, include the lift off of RH1 & RH2, its customized Gulfstream G650ER and G550 that will be available for charter, and the christening of RH3, a luxury yacht that will be available for charter in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. The company will also open its delayed, first-ever boutique hotel, RH Guesthouse, in New York City, and unveil a new digital site, The World of RH.

FloorFound survey shows high interest in used furniture

New research from resale e-commerce startup FloorFound reveals that more than 90% of Americans have purchased a resale item online and 77% of respondents planned to purchase returned or slightly-used furniture in the next year or two. When they do, 89% of consumers expect the shopping experience, delivery, and customer support to be on a par with new furniture purchases. The survey of 400 U.S. consumers shows that the majority of shoppers, 92%, have purchased a resale item online in the past year and 95% of consumers would purchase resale items from brands at a discount. “If you are an e-commerce brand not in the resale business, you are missing a big opportunity to meet a new generation of consumers where they are in terms of a desire to support sustainably-minded brands while at the same time finding great deals on items that can ship immediately,” said Chris Richter, CEO of FloorFound.

Jewelry & Luxury

Reports: Jewelers Are Enjoying A Sparkling Holiday Sales Season

Coming into the final weekend of the 2021 holiday-shopping season, jewelry designers, retail trade organizations, and industry experts agree consumers are fulfilling forecasts with how much they are shopping for gifts—especially jewelry. To bolster last-minute gifts, jewelers are offering expedited shipping, emails hawking gift certificates, and adding tabs promoting in-stock gift ideas to their websites—all in a final effort to get shoppers to go all in on jewelry. On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau said overall retail sales in November were up 0.3% seasonally adjusted from October and up 18.2% year-over-year. That compares with increases of 1.8% month-over-month and 16.3% year-over-year in October. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, sales have grown year-over-year every month since June 2020, according to Census data.

Chanel Names Unilever Vet Leena Nair Its Global CEO

Leena Nair, a veteran of consumer goods company Unilever, has been appointed the new global CEO of Chanel. She will be based in London and begin her new role in January. Nair worked at Unilever for 30 years, beginning as a management trainee in India in 1992. She most recently served as its chief human resources officer and a member of its executive committee. In that role, she oversaw 150,000 employees across more than 100 countries globally. She replaces Alain Wertheimer, who will become Chanel’s global executive chairman and owns the company with his brother Gerald. Alain first took over the company in 1974, when he was in his twenties. He relinquished the role in the 1990s but then returned to it in 2016.

Retail Expansions Continue for Vrai, Rebel Nell, and Brilliant Earth

Jewelry brands Vrai, Rebel Nell, and Brilliant Earth are all opening or have recently opened additional retail locations, moving their brands into new cities as well as expanding into shopping centers as jewelry sales and customer interest in jewelry continues to grow. Here is a look at how they designed their stores, what special features they brought in to highlight the local flavor of each city, and how they are thinking about the customer experience in these new retail locations.

Why Luxury Brands Will Keep Their Pandemic Playbooks

When the chief executive officer of Swiss luxury brand Bally looked at online revenue during the depths of the pandemic, he noticed something curious. Internet sales were robust in U.S. cities that hadn’t been on his radar. “These are cities that naturally a European brand will not think of first,” Nicolas Girotto says. “You will think about New York, Los Angeles, Miami. But there are big opportunities in Austin and Houston.” Bally, known for its hand-crafted leather shoes, is looking at opening stores soon in Houston and Charlotte. The expansion is part of Girotto’s two-year plan to increase the number of stores Bally has in the U.S. to as many as 25, from 15, while also investing in its online platform.

 

Office & Leisure

L Catterton invests in pet hospital chain Alliance Animal Health

Veterinary hospital operator Alliance Animal Health has secured an investment from private equity firm L Catterton at a valuation of between $750 million and $800 million, Axios has learned from four sources. Private equity in 2021 has shown an insatiable appetite for veterinary care. Existing shareholder LightBay Capital will remain an investor in Alliance. The Stamford, Conn.-based company marketed $39 million of pro forma adjusted EBITDA in its sale process, sources said. That implies Alliance has grown EBITDA about fivefold since LightBay backed the business in June 2019, one person added. Alliance is an owner and partner to veterinarians at animal hospitals in 15 states and growing, emphasizing medical independence and the benefit of shared resources (e.g., purchasing power). L Catterton has a long history of investing in both pet and consumer health companies. The big picture: Pet ownership is increasing, and investors view the vet care sector as recession resistant. The U.S. government substantiated this notion when it declared vet practices essential businesses during the pandemic, and the industry proved adept at converting to a drop-off and pick-up model.

 

Hobby Lobby raises minimum wage to $18.50 an hour

Hobby Lobby is boosting its minimum wage. The minimum wage for full-time employees will increase from $17 to $18.50 effective Jan. 1, 2022. “We have a long track record of taking care of our employees,” said Hobby Lobby founder and CEO, David Green. “In 1998, we made the decision to close our stores on Sundays, and at 8 p.m. the rest of the week, to provide employees time for rest, family, and worship.” Over the last 13 years, the chain has raised its minimum wage 12 times. In 2014, Hobby Lobby raised its full-time minimum hourly wage to $15, a move that has since been followed by other major retailers looking to hire and retain staff. Founded in 1972, Hobby Lobby operates 956 stores in the U.S.

Technology & Internet

What the U.S. government does with its secret bitcoin stockpile

For years, the U.S. government has maintained a side hustle auctioning off bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The government has obtained all that bitcoin by seizing it, alongside the usual assets one would expect from high-profile criminal sting operations. It all gets sold off in a similar fashion. The government’s crypto seizure and sale operation is growing so fast that it just enlisted the help of the private sector to manage the storage and sales of its hoard of tokens. There are currently three main junctures in the flow of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies through the criminal justice system in the U.S. The first phase is search and seizure. The second is the liquidation of raided crypto. And the third is deployment of the proceeds from those crypto sales.

 

OSHA investigating after 6 killed by tornado at Amazon facility

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has launched an investigation into the collapse of an Amazon delivery station in Edwardsville, Illinois, that left six people dead after a tornado pummeled the facility during the height of the busy holiday shopping season. OSHA spokesman Scott Allen told ABC News that compliance officers from the agency have been at the complex since Saturday to provide assistance. “OSHA has six months to complete its investigation, issue citations and propose monetary penalties if violations of workplace safety and or health regulations are found,” Allen told ABC News in a statement. “No further information will be available until OSHA has completed their investigation.” Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, known for representing the family of George Floyd, announced that he was representing the family of one of the victims and meeting with other injured workers and their families. The building directly impacted by the storm was a delivery station that had opened in July 2020, according to Amazon, and was approximately 1.1 million square feet with approximately 190 employees across multiple shifts.

 

Finance & Economy

Retail sales disappoint in November, raising concerns that inflation is slowing spending

Rising prices on gas and groceries are prompting Americans to pull back in other areas, raising fears that lingering inflation — coupled with a new covid wave — could be slowing economic growth.  Retail sales edged up 0.3 percent in November from the month before, the Commerce Department reported, well below the 0.8 percent gain forecast by economists. It’s also a significant slowdown from the 1.7 percent spike recorded in October, when many Americans began their holiday spending in earnest.  The categories with the largest increases reflected the rising costs of fuel and food, with gas stations notching a 1.7 percent jump in sales. Spending at restaurants and bars rose 1 percent, while grocery store sales climbed 0.9 percent.  But spending was down considerably in key holiday categories compared with October, when many retailers began rolling out early Black Friday deals. Department store sales slumped 5.4 percent, while electronics and appliance stores posted a 4.6 percent decline.

Wholesale prices measure rose 9.6% in November from a year ago, the fastest pace on record

Wholesale prices increased at their quickest pace on record in November in the latest sign that the inflation pressures bedeviling the economy are still present, the Labor Department reported.  The producer price index for final demand increased 9.6% over the previous 12 months after rising another 0.8% in November. Economists had been looking for an annual gain of 9.2%, according to FactSet.  Excluding food, energy and trade services prices rose 0.7% for the month, putting core PPI at 6.9%, also the largest gain on record. Estimates were for respective gains of 0.4% and 7.2%, meaning the monthly gain was faster than estimates but the year-over-year measure was a bit slower.  The Labor Department’s record keeping for the headline number goes back to November 2010, while the core calculation dates to August 2014.