To me the Chancellor managed to be both punitive (see p6) and non-committal, like he was dodging a bullet while a brigade of tanks is parked just round the post-election corner.
So where are we in the economic cycle? Is the worst still to come for UK plc? The slowdown in sales for Sainsbury's (p8), following a disappointing Christmas for Asda, suggests that, for the first time, even the multiples aren't performing in unison on the results front, a phenomenon in which food price inflation masked differences in strategy between the mults.
On the other hand, Waitrose is going gangbusters at the moment, sales of premium goods are up and, with the capital markets running more freely (p8), we've seen Kraft plucking Cadbury, Diamond snaffling Kettle Chips, and Noble gobbling Gü though an MBO team at Rippleglen is among those struggling to raise funds (p12), and the situation at Martin McColl has gone very quiet.
So: it's a tough environment in which to judge even the smallest signs of good and bad news. Like PepsiCo's first-ever health report, published this week.
A few years back, PepsiCo looked ahead of the curve with its acquisition strategy, focused around healthy brands such as Tropicana and Quaker Oats. Coca-Cola looked leaden by comparison. One recession later, however, with juices and smoothies decimated and Coke reverting, successfully, to its knitting, the tables had turned.
The publication of this report suggests to me, then, that PepsiCo thinks the worst of the recession is over. While its pledge to continue down its health-focused path is commendable (given the economic uncertainty), it also shows, once again, that the food industry is leading from the front.
Do we, then, need to examine a fat tax, as the FSA is doing? Is it the food and drink industry that is irresponsible?
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