Blog: Dean BestCAGNY clouds hang over the Sunshine State

Dean Best | 16 February 2009

In normal times, a trip to Florida would be something to savour. But, as we are constantly told, these are anything but normal times.

This week, hundreds of senior US food industry executives and analysts will head to the Sunshine State for what is likely to be a tense four-day conference discussing just what impact the recession is having on the sector.

The Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) Conference is one of the biggest dates on the US food industry calendar. This year, from 17-20 February, top execs from food industry giants Kraft Foods, Unilever and PepsiCo (to name just a few) will flock to Florida to provide an update of how their businesses are navigating the downturn - and how they aim to withstand the recession.

The slump in consumer confidence and the rise of private label will be central to those discussions. Big brand-owners are, to varying degrees, suffering as cautious consumers look for value. Last week, French food group Danone issued its 2008 results and, while profits rose, there remains concern that own-label could sour the company's dairy business in 2009. Indeed, Danone's baby food business is seen as relatively secure during the downturn - if only because that sector is less exposed to private label.

In recent months, as commodity and energy costs have come down, there is likely to have been some relief among food manufacturers. However, many are still locked into commodity deals signed months ago when prices were sky-high and suppliers are facing increasing pressure from retailers nervous that price increases will lose them consumers.

Last week, there emerged news of a rare public spat between supplier and retailer when consumer goods giant Unilever saw Belgian retailer Delhaize pull hundreds of its products from shelves in a row over price. Both sides made claims and counter-claims over price and although Unilever said negotiations were continuing, the spat has shone a light on how the downturn has made the sometimes-strained relationship between supplier and retailer even more tense.

This week's forecast from the Sunshine State is likely to show some black clouds on the horizon.


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