The Current, delivered daily.
Welcome to a new week. The run-up to St. Patrick’s Day will be a busy week of economic data, with the latest look at inflation and retail sales providing a snapshot of the consumer. On the networking front, marketplace sellers are gathering in Las Vegas for Prosper Show. You’ll see plenty of well wishes about luck this week. But as you consider where that fits into your working life, remember this from the Roman philosopher Seneca: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Let’s take a look at the calendar:
Prosper Show: The Las Vegas conference for marketplace sellers features networking, connections to service providers and advanced education. (March 13-15)
Consumer Price Index: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases data on inflation across the economy for February 2023. While inflation had cooled in the latter months of 2023, that motion slowed in January to leave the year-over-year price increase at 6.4%. (March 14, 8:30 a.m.)
U.S. retail sales: The U.S. Commerce Department releases data for retail sales, including ecommerce, for February 2023. In January, total sales saw a bump up 3% for the month to start the year strong, despite talk of consumer pullback. (March 14)
Producer Price Index: The U.S. Commerce Department releases data for pricing paid by wholesalers for goods before they reach retail sales. This is seen as a forward-looking measure of inflation. (March 14, 8:30 a.m.)
Consumer Sentiment: The University of Michigan releases preliminary data for March on consumer buying conditions expectations, including the outlook on inflation. Sentiment ticked up slightly in February, showing signs of emergence from historic lows over the summer. (March 17, 10 a.m.)
Monday, March 13: Boxed
Tuesday: March 14: Lulu’s Fashion Lounge, Guess
Thursday, March 16: Honest Company, Blue Apron, G-III Apparel, Designer Brands, FedEx
Trending in Economy
Campbell Soup Company CEO Mark Clouse offered thoughts on messaging amid inflationary shifts in consumer behavior.
After months of elevated inflation and interest rate hikes that have the potential to cool demand, consumers are showing more signs of shifting behavior.
It’s showing up in retail sales data, but there’s also evidence in the observations of the brands responsible for grocery store staples.
The latest example came this week from Campbell Soup Company. CEO Mark Clouse told analysts that the consumer continues to be “resilient” despite continued price increases on food, but found that “consumers are beginning to feel that pressure” as time goes on.
This shows up in the categories they are buying. Overall, Clouse said Campbell sees a shift toward shelf-stable items, and away from more expensive prepared foods.
There is also change in when they make purchases. People are buying more at the beginning of the month. That’s because they are stretching paychecks as long as possible.
These shifts change how the company is communicating with consumers.
Clouse said the changes in behavior are an opportunity to “focus on value within our messaging without necessarily having to chase pricing all the way down.”
“No question that it's important that we protect affordability and that we make that relevant in the categories that we're in," Clouse said. "But I also think there's a lot of ways to frame value in different ways, right?”
A meal cooked with condensed soup may be cheaper than picking up a frozen item or ordering out. Consumers just need a reminder. Even within Campbell’s own portfolio, the company can elevate brands that have more value now, even if they may not always get the limelight.
The open question is whether the shift in behavior will begin to show up in the results of the companies that have raised prices. Campbell’s overall net sales grew 5% for the quarter ended April 30, while gross profit margins held steady around 30%. But the category-level results were more uneven. U.S. soup sales declined 11%, though the company said that was owed to comparisons with the quarter when supply chains reopened a year ago and expressed confidence that the category is seeing a longer-term resurgence as more people cook at home following the pandemic. Snacks, which includes Goldfish and Pepperidge Farm, were up 12% And while net sales increased overall, the amount of products people are buying is declining. Volumes were down 7%.
These are trends happening across the grocery store. Campbell is continuing to compete. It is leading with iconic brands, and a host of different ways to consume them. It is following that up with innovation that makes the products stand out. Then, it is driving home messaging that shows consumers how to fit the products into their lives, and even their tightening spending plans.
Campbell Soup is more than 150 years old, and has seen plenty of difficult economic environments. It is also a different business today, and will continue to evolve. At the end of the day, continued execution is what’s required.
“If it's good food, people are going to buy it, especially if it's a great value,” Clouse said.