Insider Retail: Americans are fretting over 'shipageddon,' BarkBox goes public, and brands play fast and loose with 'plant-based' moniker

Insider Retail: Americans are fretting over 'shipageddon,' BarkBox goes public, and brands play fast and loose with 'plant-based' moniker
Taylor Swift sings about Olive Garden, hilarity ensues.Taylor Swift/YouTube

Happy Friday!


Somehow we've almost reached the end of this cursed year, and I, for one, could not be more pleased to give a not-so-fond farewell to 2020. Sadly I am not spending the holidays with my family due to the pandemic, and instead will be staying home and crossing my fingers that my holiday gifts arrive on time. (See more on the retail "shipageddon" below.)

In the meantime, I've had the lyrical stylings of Taylor Swift to ease my woes. Not only were we blessed with a surprise album from the singer-songwriter last week, but also an iconic mention of Olive Garden. The restaurant chain makes an appearance in "No Body, No Crime," a murder-mystery ballad Swift sings alongside Haim, the trio of sister wunderkinds with hair as impeccable as their vocal skills and an enthusiasm for unlimited breadsticks.

The internet, of course, promptly lost its mind. Olive Garden was even so touched that Gene Lee - the CEO of Darden Restaurants, the chain's parent company - thanked Swift on a call with investors earlier today. "When Taylor Swift drops our name in a song, our brand becomes very, very relevant. Thank you to Taylor Swift for dropping Olive Garden in her song," Lee said.

Anyway, a lot happened in the world of retail this week, so let's dive in. If you haven't already subscribed, click here to get me, Bethany Biron, and my colleague, Shoshy Ciment, in your inbox every Friday.


Tensions rise over 'shipageddon,' as holiday orders overwhelm capacity limits and cause shipping delays

Insider Retail: Americans are fretting over 'shipageddon,' BarkBox goes public, and brands play fast and loose with 'plant-based' moniker
FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith often refers to the idea that Amazon could compete with his package giant as "fantastical." But Amazon is starting to seriously encroach on FedEx.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Though retailers warned consumers to get holiday shopping done early this year to prevent shipping delays, it appears many missed the memo. Now, tensions between retailers, carriers, and consumers are rising over what some are calling "shipageddon," as the US Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx struggle to navigate an unprecedented volume of online orders during the pandemic, leaving many Americans anxiously tracking the status of their holiday packages.

In order to account for the increased demand, FedEx announced this week that it will place daily package limits on select businesses. The decision follows UPS's choice of telling drivers earlier this month to stop picking up orders altogether from large retailers like Gap and Macy's.

Meanwhile, brands like Walmart advised shoppers making last-minute holiday purchases using two-day shipping to do so no later than December 19 to ensure gifts arrive by Christmas, a full three days earlier than last year. Other companies have simply conceded that it is already too late, a challenge that Amit Sharma, CEO and founder of customer experience platform Narvar, said brands should be as transparent about as possible.

"Even if it's not good news, I would expect a retailer to inform me," Sharma told Madeline Stone this week.

BarkBox goes public as the $100 billion petcare industry continues to skyrocket

Insider Retail: Americans are fretting over 'shipageddon,' BarkBox goes public, and brands play fast and loose with 'plant-based' moniker
Scoob! BarkBox.BARK

BarkBox, the popular subscription service for pet owners, announced it will file an initial public offering this week, coming on the heels of a huge uptick in pet adoption during the pandemic and massive growth for the petcare industry.


The IPO - which notably follows competitor Petco's IPO just one month ago - is a result of a $1.6 billion merger with special acquisition company (SPAC) Northern Star Acquisitions Corp. The deal also marks the latest in a string of SPAC-backed IPOs over the last year.

Sales of pet products are expected to reach $100 billion this year, as pet owners increasingly look beyond traditional retailers to buy food, toys, and treats for their furry friends. Alex Bitter reported this week that the pivot to e-commerce has been particularly advantageous for brands like Chewy and BarkBox, as consumers continue to find ways to purchase pet items online amid the pandemic.

'Plant-based' foods are everywhere now as brands cash in on the growing $5 billion industry

Insider Retail: Americans are fretting over 'shipageddon,' BarkBox goes public, and brands play fast and loose with 'plant-based' moniker
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The plant-based food industry swelled to an estimated $5 billion this year, as meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger took over grocery store shelves and cropped up on menus everywhere from Burger King to Disney World.

However, as Alex Bitter and Catherine LeClair reported this week, the nebulous definition of "plant-based" has led several companies to use it as somewhat of a marketing catch-all. Beyond the popular meat alternatives, some brands - including those that have always been plant-based or that even contain a percentage of animal protein - have started adopting the term in an effort to cash in on the lucrative business. As a result, some experts are concerned the term is being over-used and may not accurately depict the contents of a product.

"The reason they're doing it is they've seen the data that we have," said Michele Simon, the founder and executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association. "It's no secret to anyone following the food industry that plant-based foods are strongly growing and skyrocketing in popularity."


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