Blog: Dean BestBarcelona to look at why global retail caught a cold

Dean Best | 5 May 2009

Tomorrow morning (6 May), just-food heads to the Spanish city of Barcelona for this year's World Retail Congress, a conference attracting some of the leading lights in the retail sector.

The atmosphere at last year's event was pretty gloomy and the onset of the deepest global economic recession for a generation is unlikely to lighten the mood.

Top food retail bosses, including t hose from the likes of Tesco, Loblaw, France's Système U and Brazilian retailer CBD, will join executives from across the business spectrum, including the heads of eBay, Borders and Best Buy to discuss just what the industry can do to withstand the worst of the downturn.

Lower consumer spending, rising costs, the search for capital and the impact of the recession on the promise of the world's emerging retail markets are just some of the topics up for discussion – and just-food will be there bring you the latest news and views from the event, including via the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The annual trip to Barcelona is one of the key dates in the retail industry calendar and it's clear that the event will again be of great interest to not just food retailers but also food manufacturers. The latest prognosis on emerging markets is always of vital importance for those searching out new markets – and for those juggling fledgling investments across a number of territories.

Last week, Fonterra, the world's largest dairy exporter, signalled just how challenging developing and emerging markets can be. The New Zealand-based group announced plans to quit its venture in India after deciding too much investment was needed behind the business. Fonterra also told us that it is now focusing on growing its existing business in China, after having its fingers burnt in last year's melamine-in-milk contamination scandal.

With global dairy prices remaining volatile, Fonterra's reticence in expanding its business is understandable but the group needs to remain on the look-out for opportunities in markets that promise great potential.

Unilever, for one, showed last week that it remains ready to pounce with the acquisition of Baltimor, the largest ketchup maker in Russia, a deal that was welcomed by the investment community.

Talking of Russia, Carrefour was over the weekend again linked to domestic retailer Seventh Continent. The  French retail giant has stayed tight-lipped over the rumours but reports in the Russian press have claimed a bid could come in a matter of days.

Of course, our sector is no stranger to speculation, with the ongoing coverage over the H1N1 flu outbreak a prime example. Scepticism over the extent of H1N1 may reign in some quarters but the news has spooked the pork sector, while industry events in the US have been cancelled – while Nestle has reportedly banned its executives from “non-essential travel” to the US and Mexico.

The organisers behind the World Retail Congress were quick last week to announced that the Barcelona summit will go ahead and the talk will be more likely to be on how the global economy caught a cold.


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