Saturday, July 17, 2010

Waterstone's for sale?

A story in the Daily Mail says that Simon Fox, chief executive of retailer HMV, has indicated that he would consider selling the Waterstone's book chain, though he said its disappearance would be 'tragic', in an interview with Financial Mail following the company's results. Waterstone's barely made a profit in the year up to April.

He said, "Clearly making less than £3 million profit on sales of over £500 million is not a good place to be. But I'm optimistic that the new strategy will continue to bear fruit." However, he admitted that he would consider anything that could "enhance shareholder value". Adding, "If anyone came along with a large bag of money for any part of the business, we would take that very seriously. But that is not the case."

The HMV group, with Waterstone, is the last major book retailer in the UK (after it acquired Dillons and Ottakar's) with other rivals such as Borders and Books Etc having collapsed. Waterstone's has struggled to compete with online rivals like Amazon.

No announcements about selling groceries, though.

Daily Mail

Amazon now sells groceries

A MacWorld report says, “ has launched a grocery delivery service in the U.K., following the recent kickoff of a similar service in Germany.”

Is this a sign of the times, or what? Last year there was a report of Borders selling children’s “educational” toys. Guess, if Tesco can sell books, why can’t Amazon sell salt and sugar? After all, they are both considered FMCGs -- fast moving consumer goods -- by the industry. Their competitors in UK are Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose that have overnight delivery services.

Amazon is reported to have 22,000 products in their grocery store, ranging from cleaning products to fresh fruit to beer and pet food. Customers have two options for delivery. For an annual fee of GBP49.00, customers can subscribe to Amazon's Prime membership, where an unlimited number of items can be delivered free.

Another option is Free Super Saver delivery, which takes between three to five days after items are dispatched, according to's website. Delivery time can be more if customers decide to consolidate their items into one shipment.

For fresh items, third party vendors offering those items on the site's Marketplace will be responsible for shipping. For one example, a two-pound bag of cooked king prawns from vendor The Fish Society will be delivered by courier within a day after the purchaser arranges a delivery time. The cost of delivery is listed as GBP5.21. A four-pack Banana King Granny Smith apples, which retails for GBP1.39 had a shipping cost of GBP 7.50.

Amazon has run a grocery service in the U.S. since July 2006


History of chocolate

This is not quite literary news, but what the heck.

Chocolate, a Mexican drink, is generally considered to be introduced to Europe in 1550, with July 7 declared Chocolate Day, the day the new world conquered the old. Cacao cultivation in Mexico, Central and South America dates back to at least 1250 BC according to archaeologists. The Mayans grew cacao trees in their backyards and brewed ceremonial drinks with it. In the fifth century, Aztecs drank xocoatl (bitter water) flavored with vanilla and chili pepper. (So the new fangled chili flavoured ones, one buys in Europe these days is nothing new!) The bean also served as legal currency in Aztec society. For example, one could buy a turkey for 100 cacao beans.

Then in 1504, Christopher Columbus (may have) brought cacao beans to Spain during his fourth and final voyage to the Americas. Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador who subdued Mexico (with guns, germs and steel), wrote in 1519 that chocolate is “the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.” (Surely, many will agree with that.) He brought the cacao beans and chocolate-brewing apparatus back to Spain when he returned in 1528.

Hot chocolate became very popular with the French royalty after Marie Therese married Louis XIV in 1660. Courtiers at the Palace of Versailles, regarded the drink as an aphrodisiac. London’s first chocolate house opened in 1657. British confectioners figured out how to add sugar and cocoa butter to create a paste that could be packaged as “eating chocolate.”

The rest is history.