retail news in context, analysis with attitude

• The San Jose Mercury News reports that California's Mi Pueblo supermarket chain is saying that it "has limited options to re-emerge from bankruptcy protection and faces the possibility of having to liquidate its 21 stores and abandon its 3,260 employees … In documents filed in federal bankruptcy court here this week, attorneys for Mi Pueblo asked Judge Arthur S. Weissbrodt to approve the company's plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 14 -- or it will have no choice but to liquidate the 22-year-old chain of stores."

The story notes that "in 2012, Mi Pueblo had annual sales above $350 million, according to court records. But in the first six months of 2013, sales only grew 0.6 percent.

"Also in 2012, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service conducted an audit of Mi Pueblo employees that resulted in the company firing 80 percent of its workforce, the court filing said. When Mi Pueblo filed for bankruptcy protection in July, the company's attorney told this newspaper that Wells Fargo wanted to change the terms of its loans after it became concerned about Mi Pueblo's debt to credit ratio and its forecast revenues."

• The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said last week that it will now require companies in the pork industry to report all cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which has affected hog farms in 29 states and killed millions of piglets over the past year.

To this point, the source of the virus has not been identified, and USDA is hoping that by strengthening reporting requirements, it will be able to better track and isolate the cause.

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is no threat to human health, nor to food safety, according to published reports.

• Kroger announced that it has reached a new labor agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 1996 on a new contract that will cover 3,598 associates working in 163 stores in the Atlanta area and 12 in Savannah.

• The Wall Street Journal reports that "the average U.S. consumer ate 14.4 pounds of seafood in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, down from 15 pounds in 2011 and a record high 16.6 pounds consumed in 2004. That's far less than the average 82 pounds of chicken, 57 pounds of beef and 46 pounds of pork. Americans consume in a year. It's also much less than the amount of seafood eaten in other countries. The average Japanese consumer eats 120 pounds a year, while Spaniards consume 96 pounds.

"This fading appetite for fish shows that for a fragmented industry having a healthy product isn't enough. Surveys show consumers aren't sure how to cook fish and prices can be high, while the seafood industry hasn't been able to organize any major marketing campaigns to promote fish consumption, the kind of efforts that paid off for the beef and pork industries."

• The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report saying that while salmonella infections declined by 7.5 percent last year in the US, compared to the year before, the overall foodborne illness rate remained steady.

"That is because illnesses caused by the vibrio bacterium, found in raw oysters, undercooked shellfish and warm sea waters, have been rising for years and went up 32% in 2013 compared with the 2010-2012 span," the Wall Street Journal writes. "Meanwhile, the rate of campylobacter infections, linked to contaminated dairy foods and chicken, has risen since 2006-2008."

The CDC says that about 48 million people a year get sick from tainted food. It pronounced the new numbers "disappointing."

• The Chicago Tribune reports that "Kraft Foods Group Inc. is recalling about 96,000 pounds of Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners because the packages may instead contain Classic Cheese Dogs made with milk, a known allergen. The product labels are incorrect, as they do not reflect the ingredients associated with the pasteurized cheese in the cheese dogs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Sunday. The products were formulated with milk, which is not declared on the product label … A spokeswoman for Kraft said in an email that the recall is 'isolated to about 8,000 cases of product that were distributed nationwide'."
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