* Shares of Chicago-based Conagra Brands Inc. were trading up 12.75% at $25.82 at market close March 21 as its results for fiscal third quarter 2019 exceeded expectations. The packaged food producer also revised its outlook for fiscal year 2019 to adjust for the sale of its Wesson unit, which was completed Feb. 25, and now expects organic net sales growth for the full year to be about +1%, the low end of its previous estimated range of 1.0% to 2.0%, after it removed sales from Wesson for the entire fiscal year. For the quarter ended Feb. 24, consolidated net sales rose 35.7% year over year to $2.7 billion from $2 billion in the year prior. Adjusted diluted EPS for the fiscal third quarter of 2019 came in at 51 cents, down from 61 cents from the same period in fiscal 2018 and higher than the S&P Global Market Intelligence mean consensus estimate of 49 cents.
* San Francisco could pass a bill that bans cashless stores, including Amazon.com Inc.'s cashierless convenience store concept Amazon Go, over concerns that such stores "effectively discriminate" against groups that do not qualify for a bank account or credit card, CNBC reported, citing a local official. The cashier-free store automatically deducts purchases from customers' Amazon accounts. Amazon Go stores, which sell ready-to-eat food options and essentials like bread and milk, use cameras and sensors to track items that customers take and automatically charge their credit cards. Philadelphia and New Jersey recently banned stores that do not accept cash, and San Francisco could soon follow, CNBC said.
FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION
* Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd. extended its partnership with Uber Eats to offer deliveries from four more stores in Sydney — World Square, Bondi Junction, Leichhardt and North Sydney — Inside FMCG reported. Uber Technologies Inc.-owned food ordering and delivery service will offer bread, salad, fruit and cereals, as well as a selection of items from the deli, bakery, dairy and desserts segment, and the ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat ranges under the partnership.
* Better Made Snack Foods Inc. said it is recalling about 660 bags of its original potato chips as these may contain undeclared milk, posing danger to consumers with allergies. The Walmart Inc. snack supplier found sour cream and cheddar-flavored chips in the bags, which contain milk, instead of the original potato chips. The affected 10-ounce packets, which were sold in Walmart and other stores, have a use-by date of Aug. 10 and do not mention milk as an ingredient. Consumers who have purchased the chips can return them and receive a full refund.
* Australian brewer Lion-Beer Spirits & Wine Pty Ltd. has acquired a 50% stake in Victoria-based gin producer Four Pillars Gin, according to the release. The company, which made the acquisition to expand in spirits industry, did not disclose the deal's financial details.
* MillerCoors LLC filed a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch InBev SA's unit Anheuser-Busch of designing, testing and launching false and misleading ads in order to deceive beer consumers into believing that there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light. The company also accuses Anheuser-Busch of misusing Miller Lite and Coors Light trademarks. MillerCoors is seeking an immediate halt to Anheuser-Busch's "continued false and misleading advertising claims and willful trademark dilution." The company is also asking for a trial by jury.
* Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd. began exporting wines made from indigenous Japanese grapes to Europe, as conditions became favorable following a recent trade deal between Japan and the European Union, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. The brewer, which plans to start exporting Chateau Mercian to London, will make further inroads into Europe depending on its sales in the British capital. The company is starting with shipments of two labels — Fuefuki Koshu Gris de Gris and Yamanashi Koshu — priced at about US$24 and US$21, respectively, the report added.
* U.S. agribusiness group Bunge Ltd. said the strike, which halted production at its oilseed crushing factory in Brest, France, is over after it reached an agreement with employees, Reuters reported. The workers called the strike March 12 due to safety concerns regarding a fire in silo storage, local media reported, which also prompted salary demands. According to a local source, employees resumed work on Wednesday, but output recovery could take several days as Bunge will take the time to do maintenance work for the other silos at the site.
* Packaged foods giant Mondelez International Inc. said it partnered with a nonprofit food business incubator, The Hatchery Chicago, to boost its snacking business as part of its SnackFutures platform, which seeds potentially profitable startups, and to improve its current brands. With the startup incubator, Mondelez will focus on providing educational and mentorship opportunities to entrepreneurs active in Chicago's food and drink scene. The company added that it intends to scale its growth in the snacking category by collaborating with food and beverage startups in the Chicago community.
* Packaged food company Conagra Brands is rolling out zucchini noodles as it focuses on carb replacements for its recently acquired Pinnacle Foods frozen vegetable brand Birds Eye, Bloomberg News reported. Conagra CEO Sean Connolly said the business had already started to capitalize on rising consumer demand for products like cauliflower rice, but it is likely to go further in that direction. The company is making the move to replace the troubled parts of Pinnacle's business, which include Birds Eye, cake-mix maker Duncan Hines and salad-dressing brand Wish-Bone, the report added.
* Tyson Foods Inc. voluntarily recalled about 69,093 pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strip products as they are feared to contain metal fragments. The recall affects 65,313 pounds of Tyson fully cooked buffalo style chicken strips and fully cooked crispy chicken strips sold to retailers in 25-ounce bags and 3,780 pounds of Spare Time-branded fully cooked buffalo style chicken strips in 20-pound boxes. The products bear the establishment code P7221 and have a use-by date of Nov. 30. The company has asked customers to discard the products.
TOBACCO & SMOKING PRODUCTS
* Tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc. partnered with youth-focused Vice Media LLC to promote vaping and to produce sponsored content endorsing e-cigarettes, Financial Times reported, citing two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The deal, which is surfacing amid rising anti-smoking campaigns, would cost the tobacco group £5 million and is due to start in April, one source told the newspaper. Both PMI and Vice declined the Times' request for comment.
* Darden Restaurants Inc. said it now expects fiscal 2019 diluted net EPS from continuing operations to come in the range of $5.76 to $5.80, up from the $5.60 to $5.70 range it gave in December 2018 and its third EPS outlook increase. The restaurant operator also updated its total sales forecast to a growth of approximately 5.5% year over year, from the prior forecast of a 5% to 5.5% increase. For the three months ended Feb. 24, Darden Restaurants' adjusted diluted net EPS of $1.80 grew 5.3% from $1.71 in fiscal third-quarter 2018 and exceeded the S&P Global Market Intelligence consensus normalized EPS estimate of $1.75. Total sales for the quarter also rose 5.5% to $2.25 billion from $2.13 billion in the same period a year prior.
* Malaysia and Indonesia threatened a boycott of European Union products as a retaliatory measure towards the EU's move to ban the use of palm oil in its biofuels by 2030, South China Morning Post reported. According to the newspaper, the palm oil industry watchdog says the proposed restrictions seem to be politically motivated rather than being an environmental issue. Both countries also plan to take the issue to the World Trade Organization, the report said.
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The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 0.14% to 29,113.36, while the Nikkei 225 gained 0.09% to 21,627.34.
In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.83% to 7,294.13, and the Euronext 100 fell 0.99% to 1,037.66.
On the macro front
The PMI Composite FLASH, the Existing Home Sales report, the Wholesale Trade report, the Baker-Hughes Rig Count report and the Treasury Budget 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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