* Starbucks Corp. CEO Kevin Johnson is curbing plans of opening about 1,000 Starbucks Reserve stores, which had been part of former CEO Howard Schultz's vision for the coffee chain, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing an interview. Johnson, who took the helm at Starbucks in April 2017 after Schultz stepped down from the role, described the target as an "aspiration." Starbucks unveiled its plan to open 20 to 30 Roastery cafes, 1,000 Reserve stores and to add Starbucks Reserve bars at 20% of all Starbucks stores at an investor day presentation in December 2016.
* Grocery operator The Kroger Co. and Microsoft Corp. will pilot two connected stores in Ohio and Washington, powered by the tech giant's Azure cloud platform. The stores, which will offer a new customer experience using what the company called Retail as a Service, or RaaS, will feature a shelving system with digital displays that show prices, discounts and nutritional information. Kroger will also integrate its Scan, Bag, Go system with Microsoft's artificial intelligence to create a guided shopping experience.
FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION
* Walmart Inc.-owned Asda topped the list of Britain's big four supermarket chains in the Christmas quarter as its sales rose 0.8% year over year for 12 weeks to Dec. 30, 2018, Reuters reported, citing researcher Nielsen. Market leader Tesco PLC scored a 0.6% increase, whereas sales at J Sainsbury PLC fell 0.4%. Sales of discounters Aldi and Lidl, in contrast, jumped 10.4% and 9.4% respectively.
* British supermarket chain Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC reported a 3.6% growth in Christmas sales, comprising contributions from retail of 0.6% and wholesale of 3.0%. Same-store sales rose 0.6% in the nine weeks to Jan. 6. The company reiterated its full-year guidance.
* Zimbabwe beverage-maker Delta Corp. Ltd. raised wholesale prices of lager beer by an average 25% due to "significant" increases in local costs, while adding that it is assessing the cost impact on its other products. Delta cited official inflation statistics for the price rise, which also seeks to address adequate profit-sharing with its retail partners. The news comes shortly after Delta scrapped its decision to only accept hard currency for its beverages after the government opposed the move.
* British pub operator and brewer Greene King PLC recorded 10.9% rise in like-for-like sales in the last two weeks of 2018 and posted record sales of £7.7 million on Christmas day, according to a London Stock Exchange filing. All sales categories saw like-for-like growth over the last six weeks till Jan. 6, led by Greene King's Local Pubs. However, Pub Partners' like-for-like net profit was down approximately 1% while total beer volumes in Brewing & Brands were up 1.8% and own-brewed volumes were down 2.3%, the company said.
* China is importing more American soybeans after trade talks between the two countries resumed, Bloomberg News reported, citing traders familiar with the transaction. State stockpiler Sinograin bought at least 11 shipments Jan. 7, the unnamed traders told the news outlet. The shipments to be loaded in the Gulf Coast are for January and early February, while those purchased from the Pacific Northwest will be for February and March, the sources told Bloomberg.
* China approved five genetically modified crops for import from the U.S., the first in about 18 months in a move that could boost its overseas grains purchases, Reuters reported. Two of the newly approved products — BASF's RF3 canola and Bayer Aktiengesellschaft-owned Monsanto Co.'s glyphosate-tolerant MON 88302 canola — had been waiting six years for permission. Five other products seeking approvals were not sanctioned, including two GM alfalfa products developed by Monsanto and two DowDuPont Inc. soybean traits, the report added.
* India's Supreme Court allowed U.S. seed maker Monsanto, a unit of Bayer, to claim patents on its genetically modified cotton seeds, Reuters reported. The company appealed to the Supreme Court against a ruling by the Delhi High Court last year, which said the company cannot claim patents. Following this move, a nationalist group close to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party said it would seek a legislative revision to the rules governing patents, according to a separate Reuters report.
* Fonterra Future Dairy, a joint venture between New Zealand-based dairy company Fonterra Co-op Group Ltd. and Indian packaged food producer Future Consumer Ltd., appointed Ishmeet Singh as its new CEO, effective Jan. 7, The Economic Times (India) reported. Singh joins Fonterra Future Dairy from toy manufacturer Mattel, where he was country manager for India and the SAARC region.
* China Mengniu Dairy Co. Ltd. said chairman and nonexecutive director Ma Jianping has resigned from his posts due to change of work, effective immediately. Yu Xubo will succeed Jianping as chairman of the board, chairman of the nomination committee, and the chairman of the strategy and development committee.
* Centerbridge Partners LP is exclusively negotiating to sell Chinese food restaurant P.F. Chang's China Bistro Inc. to fellow private equity firm TriArtisan Capital Advisors LLC for up to $700 million, Bloomberg News reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter. TriArtisan, which invests in middle-market and larger capitalization companies, is in discussions with lenders over the potential deal's financing, one of the sources told the news outlet. Representatives for Centerbridge, P.F. Chang's and TriArtisan did not respond to requests for comment, the report added.
The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng was up 0.15% to 25,875.449. The Nikkei 225 rose 0.82% to 20,204.04.
In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 increased 1.11% to 6,886.30, and the Euronext 100 rose 1.25% to 931.11.
On the macro front
The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, the International Trade report, the Redbook report and the JOLTS 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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