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PepsiCo trials robot delivery at California campus; Coca-Cola closes Costa deal

TOP NEWS

* PepsiCo Inc. is testing a robotic delivery service at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., The Associated Press reported. Students can meet the six-wheeled robot at select points on campus and get the PepsiCo products they ordered through a mobile app, the report said. The robots, built by tech startup Robby Technologies Inc., can reportedly move at speeds of up to six miles per hour and stop when they detect a person in their way.

* Coca-Cola Co. said it completed its $4.9 billion acquisition of U.K.-based coffee shop chain Costa Ltd. from Whitbread PLC. Whitbread will receive all proceeds from the deal and will grant Coca-Cola all of Costa's operations in over 30 countries, marking the beverage giant's entry into the coffee industry.

FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION

* General Motors Co.'s self-driving car unit GM Cruise LLC partnered with food delivery service platform DoorDash Inc. to test food and grocery deliveries using Cruise's autonomous vehicles. According to an announcement, DoorDash will use Cruise's self-driving cars to trial the efficiency of delivering food and groceries from DoorDash's merchants to customers' doors. The companies said they expect to develop safety measures and operational improvements based on the results of the pilot.

* Amazon.com Inc.-owned grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. said it is launching a digital product catalog on its online platform to allow shoppers to browse for items according to their dietary preference. The feature also offers complete nutritional information, diet and allergen tags, and ingredient lists for various dietary preferences.

* North Castle Partners LLC raised $278.5 million from 28 investors for its North Castle Partners VII LP fund. The Greenwich, Conn.-based private equity firm backs consumer companies in the healthy, active and sustainable living markets.

BEVERAGES

* Zimbabwe-based beer and soft drink company Delta Corp. Ltd. scrapped its decision to only accept hard currency for its beverages after the government opposed the move. A day after making the initial announcement, Delta notified customers in a tweet that it is abandoning its previously announced plan following a meeting with Zimbabwe's vice president, Constantino Guveya Dominic Nyikadzino Chiwenga, and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Anheuser-Busch InBev SA owns 40% of the brewer.

AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS

* Agricultural products and animal feed giant Cargill Inc.'s fiscal 2019 second-quarter profit dipped 20% year over year to $741 million, compared with $924 million a year earlier. Quarterly revenue for the period ended Nov. 30, 2018, decreased 4% year over year to $28 billion. The company said it performed "reliably in a dynamic, uncertain environment."

PACKAGED FOODS

* Nestlé India Ltd., a unit of Nestlé SA, welcomed the Indian Supreme Court's decision to reject interim orders made in 2015 by the country's consumer commission against the company over its Maggi noodles. The consumer commission filed a class-action lawsuit Aug. 11, 2015, against the company after a government laboratory said it found MSG and high levels of lead in samples of the noodles. In April 2016, the Central Food Technological Research Institute submitted its analysis reports on Maggi noodles to India's Supreme Court and found that 100% of the samples tested by the agency contained lead levels within permissible limits. The company then appealed to the High Court against two interim orders submitted by the consumer commission, and in response, the Supreme Court "has agreed with Nestlé's contention."

* Online prepared meals subscription provider Freshly Inc. tapped Mayur Gupta, vice president of growth and marketing at music streaming service Spotify Technology SA, as its new chief marketing officer, effective Jan. 7, The Wall Street Journal reported. Gupta reportedly will succeed Sharon Fox, who left the Nestlé SA-backed startup in the spring of 2018. Additionally, New York-based Freshly expects to expand its delivery network to 48 states in the U.S. in 2019, from 28 at 2018-end, and hire more personnel to increase its current headcount of 700, the Journal reported.

* Swiss milk processor Emmi AG said it bought a Seymour, Wis.-based production facility from Great Lakes Cheese Co. Inc. for an undisclosed sum to strengthen Emmi's blue cheese production capacity in the U.S. The deal includes the factory, which produces over 7 million pounds of cheese, the related land, and all of the production facilities and equipment. Emmi will continue to offer employment to all 50 personnel engaged at the site.

RESTAURANTS

* U.K. pub owner Stonegate Pub Co. Ltd.. said sales over the Christmas holiday period, comprising of two weeks to Jan. 1, rose 12% year over year despite concerns in the industry over unseasonal weather and Brexit, Reuters reported. Like-for-like sales grew 7.8% year over year. The Slug and Lettuce-owner reportedly posted an average sales growth of 8.3% year over year on key days, including Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

* U.K.-based Japanese-themed restaurant chain Wagamama Ltd. reported a year-over-year turnover rise of 15.4% to £81.5 million in the second quarter 2018-2019, from £70.6 million in the same period a year earlier, helped by its domestic and U.S. businesses. Adjusted EBITDA rose 18.7% to £13.2 million from £11.1 million in the year-ago period. The Restaurant Group PLC agreed to buy Wagamama for £559 million on Oct. 31, 2018.

INDUSTRY NEWS

* China's animal husbandry and veterinary affairs bureau will pursue criminal cases against farmers who fail to report deaths of pigs, or slaughter them privately, amid an African swine flu epidemic in the country, Reuters reported, citing a statement from China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. The move comes after neighboring Taiwan accused China of concealing the full extent of the disease. Two dead pigs, one confirmed to have the virus, have reportedly washed up in Taiwan, prompting fears that the disease might spread among Taiwan's 5.39 million pig population. China's agriculture and rural affairs ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters' fax seeking comment.

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The day ahead

Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.

In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 2.24% to 25,626.03, while the Nikkei 225 was down 2.26% to 19,561.96.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 increased 1.40% to 6,786.47, and the Euronext 100 was up 1.25% to 908.69.

On the macro front

The Employment Situation report, the PMI Services Index, the EIA Natural Gas Report, the EIA Petroleum Status Report and the Baker-Hughes Rig Count report are due out today.

Click here to read about today's financial markets, setting out the factors driving stocks, bonds and currencies around the world ahead of the New York open.

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