retail news in context, analysis with attitude

• The Detroit News reports that Meijer, Inc. plans ton invest at least $75 million “to remodel 10 stores in Michigan and Ohio, including three in Metro Detroit — a move to keep the superstore chain competitive through updates and reduced costs.” The renovations are expected to be completed by the end of 2011, according to the report.

Reuters reports that Netherlands-based Ahold has opened its first store in Belgium this week, “a move that could intensify competition for existing supermarket groups Delhaize, Colruyt, and Carrefour. The story says that the unit “is the first of what Ahold hopes will be a string of its Albert Heijn stores across Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium.”

• The Albert Lea Tribune reports that the Hy-Vee store in that community has begun offering “Blue Zone” checkouts, which have healthy snack, such as granola bars and dried fruit, rather than the candy offered at other lanes.

The paper writes that “Hy-Vee dietitian Amy Pleimling said since the Blue Zones lane opened, the store has seen an average of a 42 percent increase on sales of items featured in the lane. She reported a 60 percent increase in the sales of soy nuts, a 30 percent increase in the sales of raw no-salt sunflower seeds, a 63 percent increase in the sales of dried peaches (no sugar added varieties) and a 16 percent increase in the sales of Sunsweet prunes.”

• The Chicago Sun Times reports that “British lawmakers attacked Kraft Food Inc. Chief Executive Irene Rosenfeld on Tuesday for refusing to appear for the second time before an inquiry into the U.S. company’s takeover of chocolate maker Cadbury.

“Rosenfeld’s absence dominated a hearing by the cross-party Business Select Committee into whether Northfield-based Kraft has kept promises it made after the takeover a year ago about protecting jobs in Britain ... Rosenfeld’s decision to spurn invitations to appear before the committee — either in person or via video link from the United States — has further strained Kraft’s already fraught political relations in Britain.”

Kraft has maintained that it cannot promise to “extend guarantees about preserving manufacturing positions beyond next year,” the story notes.

• Whole Foods announced that it has funded a total of $4 million in low-interest loans through its Local Producer Loan Program to help small, independent producers expand their businesses and bring more of their high quality, local products to market.

Whole Foods Market first launched the program in 2007.

• The Portland Business Journal reports that Kroger-owned Fred Meyer “has agreed to provide back pay and pension benefits to Oregon employees who were deployed for military service during the last seven years. The grocer will also modify its employment practices.

“Under the settlement ... the store agreed to several stipulations after an investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Veterans had complained that they had not received step increases and pension benefits during their periods of military deployment — a violation of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re employment Rights Act and state law.”

Ironically, the Oregon Attorney General with which the Kroger-owned chain reached the agreement is named John Kroger.
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