retail news in context, analysis with attitude

• Kroger announced that a tentative agreement for a new contract has been reached by its Central Division with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 700. The tentative agreement covers approximately 2,400 associates working in Kroger, Scott’s and Owens stores in Northeast Indiana. The union plans to vote on the new contract on May 19.

• The San Antonio Business Journal reports that over the weekend, HE Butt convened “a Childhood Obesity Summit in Austin as part of a statewide effort to reverse the rising rate of obesity in Texas ... The summit is being held in conjunction with the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards program. Each year, H-E-B recognizes the achievements of outstanding educators, schools and districts across Texas with cash incentives ranging from $5,000 to $100,000. Individuals and schools were nominated from regions where H-E-B operates stores.”

• Wakefern Food Corp. announced Friday that “on behalf of its ShopRite and PriceRite stores, it will donate 1,000 personal hygiene kits to those affected by the recent tornados in Alabama. With a value of nearly $20,000, these kits will provide personal care essentials such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes to displaced Americans suffering in the nation’s South. Wakefern associate volunteers gathered Monday evening to assemble the 1,000 kits which will be loaded onto a ShopRite trailer headed to the West Alabama Food Bank for distribution to those affected by the disaster.”

• The Wall Street Journal reports that General Mills expects its costs to be up 4-5 percent this year, and as much again next year, and that the company is not only raising prices for its products, but is not meeting significant customer resistance, which it sees as “ a sign that the operating environment is improving.”

Bloomberg reports that “it seems likely” that ConAgra will increase its bid to acquire Ralcorp Holdings from the current $4.9 billion, which itself was a billion dollars more than its original bid.

According to the story, “While Ralcorp has spurned both of ConAgra’s offers and adopted a ‘poison pill’ strategy to prevent hostile takeovers, ConAgra Chief Executive Officer Gary Rodkin signaled that he intends to take his proposal directly to shareholders. Buying St. Louis-based Ralcorp would hand Rodkin, who has rewarded owners with a gain of less than 4 percent since becoming CEO in 2005, control of a company that almost tripled its profit in the past five years. Ralcorp may be worth $104 a share, 27 percent more than ConAgra’s initial bid, BMO Capital Markets said.”

• The Wall Street Journal has an interview this morning with Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell Soup, in which he talks about how the company plans to reverse stagnant sales in a post-recession environment.

“We have to rebalance our marketing mix, and make sure we are spending properly,” he says. “Moving away from discounting, we are emphasizing innovation and advertising. We expect better earnings-per-share performance in the second half. But we still have issues to work through ... We recognize we are competing in this broader simple meal arena. We have to be more aggressive at developing other capabilities. To drive meaningful sales growth implies more incremental innovation in our core categories - simple meals, healthy beverages and baked snacks. It implies leaning into smart acquisitions and partnership activities.”

Conant is scheduled to be succeeded by current COO Denise Morrison when he steps down this summer.
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