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Annie's Homegrown Hops Along on Growth Trail, But Greater Competition Looms

Posted by Dale Buss on November 12, 2013 04:37 PM

Annie's Homegrown caught lightning in a box with its line of organic macaroni-and-cheese products several years ago just as American moms were warming up to better-for-you foods for their kids. And while Annie's remains in an expansionary mode, there are new questions about whether it can continue its explosive growth.

For its part, Annie's is bullish, having just announced it expects to expand snack production and distribution as a result of buying a plant in Missouri that already has been the out-contracted source of most of its cookies and crackers for more than a decade. Annie's wants to add product lines and distribution under its Cheddar Bunnies and Bunny Graham snack offerings.

The purchase "is an attractive business opportunity that will help us go after the significant untapped growth and profit potential in our snack business," CEO John Foraker said during a recent conference call with analysts.Continue reading...

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FDA Seeks to Vanquish Trans-Fats by Giving Them 'Non-GRAS' Status

Posted by Dale Buss on November 8, 2013 07:47 PM

Brands have been fleeing artery-clogging trans fats since a FDA labeling requirement for the stuff in 2006, but now the federal agency likely will finish off hold-out trans-fat products with a preliminary ruling this week that the primary source of the fats are no longer "GRAS."

GRAS means "generally recognized as safe," and it is the sine qua non for any ingredient that is going into a regulated food and beverage sold in the United States. The new FDA ruling made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils—the primary diet source of artificial trans fat in processed foods—no longer are GRAS for use in food. As Advertising Age noted, the next step is to find out from food makers how long it would take them to reformulate foods that contain extra trans fats if the ruling is finalized.

Trans fats have some inimitable qualities that help in food taste and texture, manufacturers say, including helping crisp french fries. Holdout brands have ranged from Pillsbury Grand! cinnamon rolls to Marie Callender pies from ConAgra to Diamond Foods' Pop Secret pocorn. So even though General Mills said that more than 90 percent of its US retail products already are retailed as zero grams trans fat, it called the ruling a "major development."Continue reading...

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Dead Weight: Nestle Sells Jenny Craig to Curves Owner

Posted by Dale Buss on November 7, 2013 03:39 PM

Nestle already has put PowerBar on the block in its strategic overhaul of its brand portfolio to thin underperforming ones. Now it's Jenny Craig's turn to leave the Swiss nest amid continued tumult in the weight-management business.

In a move signaled a couple of weeks ago, the global food giant struck a deal to sell the struggling "Jenny" business to North Castle Partners, likely for significantly less than the $600 millon Nestle paid for the business in 2006, according to the Wall Street Journal. The equity firm's buyout fund only has $100 million to spare.

North Castle plans to combine Jenny Craig and its current 600 weight-management centers in the US and elsewhere with Curve International, the female-oriented fitness-club franchiser that it purchased last year, the newspaper said.Continue reading...

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Cargill Heeds Consumers, Labels 'Finely Textured Beef' Following 'Pink Slime' Scandal

Posted by Dale Buss on November 6, 2013 02:49 PM

Cargill is succumbing to pressures for transparency in its beef-processing operations by deciding to label when its "finely textured beef"—ripped by critics as bottom-of-the-processing-barrel "pink slime"—is included in ground beef in new packaging due out early next year.

The agribusiness giant saw how last year's pink-slime controversy ravaged rival beef processor BPI, which had to shutter plants and lay off hundreds of employees. And Cargill said its move was a specific response to its own survey of more than 3,000 consumers over the last 18 months about ground beef and how it's made.

"We've listened to the public, as well as our [retailer] customers, and that is why today we are declaring our commitment to labeling Finely Textured Beef," John Keating, president of Cargill Beef, said in a statement.Continue reading...

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Chili's Embraces Mexican Heritage, Adds Delivery to Lure Reluctant Diners

Posted by Dale Buss on October 24, 2013 07:12 PM

Chili's is being challenged like other full-service restaurants by the reticence of American consumers to spend big on eating out. But brand executives this week discussed a passel of new initiatives designed to work past the slump and make Chili's a place that can't be bypassed.

"We will drive relevance with our guests by innovating and renovating our menu" and taking other measures, Wyman Roberts, CEO of Brinker International, Chili's parent, told participants in a conference call, according to

Chili's third quarter was utterly forgetable, hurt by a decline in same-store sales of the sorts that are hitting other full-service chains such as Darden's Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants. "The malaise we have seen in the category didn't let up this quarter," Roberts said, according to Reuters.Continue reading...

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McDonald's Sluggishness was Expected, But What Will Change Things?

Posted by Dale Buss on October 21, 2013 06:17 PM

Global economic sluggishness continues to hold McDonald's back, CEO Don Thompson told investors today. And the chain doesn't seem to be able to do enough to escape the muck.

When Thompson elaborated on third-quarter earnings in a conference call, he could only report disappointing news: Global same-stores sales rose by only 0.9 percent during the period, "not as high as we'd like"; October sales should be "relatively flat" even with a slow year-ago number; and gambits ranging from new limited-time Mighty Wings to McDonald's long-standing Dollar Menu just aren't attracting the sales that McDonald's had hoped.

All Thompson could do was promise the investment community that McDonald's is doing everything it can to get past these challenges and succeed despite economic sluggishness in the US, Japan, China and other markets.Continue reading...

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Chipotle Bolsters Brand Ethos—But at a Cost

Posted by Dale Buss on October 21, 2013 01:36 PM

Changes are coming to Chipotle, but management assures that it will all be worth it

The bottom line is that Chipotle CEO Steve Ells believes that the restaurant's formula of serving high-quality food at a quick pace, with natural ingredients and an overall better-for-you persona, will continue to be enough to help Chipotle out-pace growth by fast-casual rivals—and any other factor that comes its way.

But there will be adjustments for Chipotle along the way, Ells made clear in the company's latest conference call. And they will include a price increase of 3 to 5 percent next year for the first time in about four years. General food-ingredients inflation will play a role, Ells said, but so will completing Chipotle's efforts to weed out all GMO ingredients from its food-supply chain. (It doesn't choose to tackle GMO content in high-fructose corn syrup in popular soft drinks at this point.)

"What it will depend on is what happens with general ingredient inflation between now and then and what it costs us to remove GMOs from the rest of our igredients," Ells told analysts, adding: "We already have—and had for a long time—spent more money on our ingredients as a percentage of sales than our competitors or [any company] for which we have the records. And so we have high food costs, and that's not something that troubles us too much as long as we are able to [have] really high sales volumes in our restaurants."Continue reading...

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7-Eleven Moves Upscale with New Look, Healthier Products

Posted by Mark J. Miller on October 18, 2013 03:47 PM

7-Eleven is a longtime favorite late-night stop for soda, beer, candy, Slurpees, cigarettes, and snack food—an offering that has helped it become the world’s largest chain of convenience stores. But now the brand is looking to change its tune to get more in-line with offerings that appeal to Millennials and women. 

One transformation has already been completed, as last month the chain began stocking its US stores with healthier snacking options including roasted edamame, organic trail mix, veggie chips and a variety of dried fruit and nut blends that are displayed in a whole new health section of some of its stores.Continue reading...

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