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Consumer Confidential: Ford rolls, Hershey sweetens, lawmakers eye caffeinated beer

April 26, 2011 | 10:16 am

Fordpic Here's your tickled-pink Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- Ford has its groove on. The carmaker says its first-quarter profit soared 22% as an expanded portfolio of fuel-efficient vehicles helped it attract buyers. That Ford was able to increase profitability even as gas prices neared $4 a gallon shows how much the company has reinvented itself. In the past, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler made most of their money selling trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Things are different now. With the focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles, Ford posted its highest first-quarter profit since 1998. The company also says it doesn't expect disruptions stemming from last month's earthquake in Japan to significantly affect its North American or European operations.

-- Sweet: Hershey has posted higher first-quarter profit as its sales increased even though the costs of sugar and other materials are rising. The chocolate heavyweight credited its success on the launch of Hershey's Drops and Reese's Minis, as well as its expansion outside the U.S. and a 30% increase in ad spending. Like other companies, Hershey is facing higher costs for raw materials including sugar, fuel and packaging. Last month, it said it would pass those costs along to customers and raise prices by nearly 10% this year. But Hershey is also trying to keep costs down by making cuts elsewhere. Last year, the company rolled out a money-saving program it calls Project Next Century, which included laying off workers and ending production in the old factory that Milton Hershey built.

-- California may follow other states in banning beer-boosted energy drinks. State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) says caffeinated beer beverages have sent young people to the hospital because of what he calls a dangerous combination that masks the effects of alcohol. He says the products are often marketed to young drinkers. His bill, SB39, passed the Senate on a 24-14 vote Monday. It now goes to the Assembly. The bill would prohibit making, importing or selling the beverages in California. No one spoke against the bill, and, interestingly, there was no opposition from the beverage industry. Padilla says the bill is similar to bans enacted in Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Utah and Washington.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Ford's vehicles have proven popular with car buyers. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press