* China plans to impose a 15% tariff on U.S. exports including fresh fruit, dried fruit and nut products, wine, modified ethanol and American ginseng. The levy is the first step in Beijing's phased response to slap tariffs on up to $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to American tariffs on steel and aluminum. In a second step, China proposed imposing a 25% tariff on eight U.S. products, including pork.
* More than 12 executives and senior managers have departed U.S. retailer Whole Foods Market Inc. following its acquisition by U.S. e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. in 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing former employees and recruiters. A few of the top managers of Whole Foods said that reporting to younger Amazon executives may be a reason, while other employees say that Amazon could not detail how it plans to integrate the grocer into its business, the report said.
FOOD RETAIL AND DISTRIBUTION
* U.K. department stores operator Marks & Spencer Group PLC said it appointed Stuart Machin managing director of its food business, effective late April, as part of its businesswide transformation plan in a bid to restructure the company's food division. Machin will report to CEO Steve Rowe and work closely with the company's Clothing & Home managing director Jill McDonald.
* U.K. retailer Crawshaw Group PLC said CEO Noel Collett and CFO Alan Richardson will step down to pursue other opportunities. Collett will remain with the company until a replacement is appointed, while Richardson will leave in early May.
* Starbucks Hong Kong, a subsidiary of U.S. restaurants company Starbucks Corp., opened its first cafe serving alcohol at IFC Mall in the city-state's central district, Inside Retail Hong Kong reported. The exclusive café launched two coffee-infused craft beers, developed in collaboration with a local brewery, the Caramel Macchiato Cream Ale and the Mocha Brown Ale; and three bottled beers including Hiiro Seed Guava Love, which is a fruity beer brewed locally by Hitachino Nest Beer, the report said.
* U.S. alcoholic beverages company Brown-Forman Corp. said it priced notes offering worth an aggregate amount of $600 million, in which it is offering a 7-year senior unsecured note worth $300 million and a 20-year senior unsecured note worth $300 million. The proceeds of the offering are planned to be used for general corporate purposes.
* U.K. soft drinks company Fevertree Drinks PLC said its founders and its non-executive deputy chairman, Charles Rolls, will sell about 1.5 million of the company's ordinary shares held by him through an accelerated bookbuild placing to institutional investors. The shares were placed at a price of 2,750 pence per share and Rolls now owns 9.9 million, or about 8.6%, company shares after the sale.
* U.S. food company Conagra Brands Inc. lifted its earnings per share guidance for the fiscal year ending May 31 and now expects adjusted diluted EPS for the period to be in the range of $2.03 to $2.05 from a previous outlook of $1.95 to $2.02. For the third quarter ended Feb. 25, the company's net income rose 101.9% to $362.8 million from $179.7 million reported in the same period a year ago, while its adjusted diluted EPS came in at 61 cents, higher than the S&P Capital IQ mean consensus estimate of 57 cents.
* U.K. packaged foods and meat producer Noble Foods Ltd made a "group-wide" pledge to supply only cage-free eggs by 2025 amidst the animal welfare concerns around one of its suppliers, Just-Food reported. The company said it is working with its retail partners and the farming community to ensure a smooth transition, the report added.
* An investor lawsuit claiming that the U.S. restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. concealed food safety risks was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla in Manhattan, Reuters reported. The judge noted that the lawsuit failed to prove that Chipotle defrauded investors, the report added.
* Taco Bell, a subsidiary of U.S. fast-food restaurants operator Yum! Brands Inc., said it will launch a new line of tortilla chips to be sold at grocery and convenience stores in May, USA Today reported. The chips, which will be sold in 1-ounce, 3.5-ounce and 30-ounce bags, will be available in three different degrees of spiciness — none, mild and Fire, taking its name from Taco Bell's hot sauce packets, the report said.
* A subsidiary of U.S. restaurants chain operator Darden Restaurants Inc., Olive Garden will scrap its popular promotional offer "Buy One Take One" this quarter, Bloomberg News reported. The company, which plans to develop an everyday value strategy of giving customers a good deal without a special offer, will reduce the number of its promotional offers from nine to six in 2018, the report said.
THE DAY AHEAD
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng decreased 2.45% to 30,309.29, and the Nikkei 225 declined 4.51% to 20,617.86.
In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.56% to 6,913.57, and the Euronext 100 was down 1.37% to 995.91.
ON THE MACRO FRONT
The durable goods orders report, the new home sales report and the Baker-Hughes Rig Count report are due out today.
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