* Instacart's relationship with Kroger Co., one of its major U.S. clients, may be in hot water after the food retail giant announced its partnership with U.K. online grocery service Ocado Group PLC. When asked about the San Francisco-based company's pricing practices at a BMO Capital Markets-organized conference in New York, Kroger CFO J. Michael Schlotman pointed to Instacart's practice of charging more for some Kroger products than Kroger does in its stores. However, Kroger views its alliance with Instacart as favorable to its deal with Ocado, adding that the companies' relationship will not be affected by the transaction, Reuters reported, citing a Kroger spokesman.
* U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority is inviting feedback about the potential impact of a merger between supermarket chain J Sainsbury PLC and Walmart Inc.'s British unit Asda Stores Ltd. Interested parties are encouraged to send their comments on the proposed transaction until June 4 to allow the watchdog to gather information and analyze the deal's effect on competition in the country. The antitrust regulator, which said its director of mergers, Colin Raftery, will be responsible for the review, anticipates that the investigation "will happen in the coming months."
* A German top court ruled that beer cannot be advertised as having health benefits after a Berlin consumer protection group sued Germany's Haerle Brewery for describing its beer as "bekoemmlich," a German word that can be loosely translated as tasty and wholesome, Reuters reported. The court reportedly upheld a lower court ruling that the word cannot be used to market beverages containing over 1.2% alcohol. In 2012, the highest court of the EU ruled that the same word cannot be used to market wine, the report said.
* China's Commerce Ministry said it will terminate an anti-dumping probe on U.S. sorghum imports in an apparent conciliatory gesture as the two countries enter their second day of trade talks in Washington. The ministry said it will return in full the temporary anti-dumping deposits that have been collected.
* The death toll from the recent listeria outbreak in South Africa rose to 204, but new cases of the disease have decreased from 24.9 per week to 6.4 per week since March 5 after the recall of contaminated products, Reuters reported, citing a statement from South African health and agriculture authorities. The outbreak, which has reportedly spread to 1,033 individuals, was confirmed to have originated from a Tiger Brands Ltd. Polokwane plant.
* U.S. meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron Inc. appointed Tim Bensley as its CFO, effective May 21. Prior to his appointment, Bensley served in leadership roles with different companies.
* San Francisco-based subscription meal kit delivery service Sun Basket will start serving diabetes-friendly recipes after collaborating with the American Diabetes Association to create "carbohydrates-conscious" meals that promote proper nutrition and portion control. This new offering comes after the company announced new funding of $57.8 million in January and opened distribution centers in the East Coast and Midwest.
* Princes, a major producer of plastic bottles in the U.K., is set to increase the recycled content in its bottles to more than 50% within four months, the Guardian reported. The company, which produces 7% of UK's plastic bottles, made the move as part of its strategy to commit to 100% recycled plastic in all its products as soon as possible, the report added.
TOBACCO AND SMOKING PRODUCTS
* NN Group NV will cease investments in the tobacco industry as the Dutch insurer plans to divest all tobacco-related holdings on its own accounts and in its asset manager funds within a year, Reuters reported. The company owns about €200 million in corporate bonds issued by tobacco manufacturers, Reuters added, citing NN Chief Investment Officer Jelle van der Giessen.
* Starbucks Corp. will open its first Myanmar store in Yangon after its partly owned Hong Kong division Coffee Concepts, which operates Starbucks in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia, received overseas investment approval, Inside Retail Hong Kong reported.
* Chinese hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding Ltd. has applied to launch an IPO in Hong Kong, according to a May 17 filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Details of the listing, including pricing, size and date, were not disclosed. However, a May 18 report in the South China Morning Post said brokers expect that the Beijing-based company will look to raise between US$600 million and US$700 million. CMB International and Goldman Sachs are joint sponsors of the IPO.
* U.S. fast-food chain McDonald's Corp. opened an outlet at the Sydney airport with a new look, Inside FMCG reported. Unlike other outlets, this outlet houses kitchen above the billing desk and features a transporter system that carries products from kitchen to the counter staff.
The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng increased 0.34% to 31,047.91, and the Nikkei 225 increased 0.40% to 22,930.36.
In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.17% to 7,775.10, while the Euronext 100 was up 0.10% to 1,084.48.
On the macro front
The Baker-Hughes Rig Count report is due out today.
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