Kraft’s $143 Billion Bid for Unilever Highlights Squeeze in Consumer Goods – By  Saabira Chaudhuri,  Annie Gasparro and  Anne Steele Updated Feb. 17, 2017 2:45 p.m. ET

U.S. food and beverage maker says U.K. company declined proposal, but ‘we look forward to working to reach agreement on the terms of a transaction’

 0:00 / 0:00 Unilever rejected Kraft Heinz's $143 billion merger offer, but Kraft still has hopes of reaching an agreement. WSJ's Saabira Chaudhuri has details on Lunch Break. Photo: Reuters

0:00 / 0:00
Unilever rejected Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion merger offer, but Kraft still has hopes of reaching an agreement. WSJ’s Saabira Chaudhuri has details on Lunch Break. Photo: Reuters

Unilever rejected Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion merger offer, but Kraft still has hopes of reaching an agreement. WSJ’s Saabira Chaudhuri has details on Lunch Break. Photo: Reuters

Kraft Heinz Co. made a $143 billion unsolicited bid for Anglo-Dutch rival Unilever PLC, seeking to marry two of the world’s biggest packaged food makers and accelerate an industrywide drive to cut costs amid slowing sales.

Any deal faces significant hurdles, even if Unilever management—which quickly rejected the offer Friday—ultimately comes around. The companies are big players in many of the same markets, so a combination would draw scrutiny by antitrust regulators around the world. It also could face political hurdles in the U.K. and the Netherlands, where Unilever has dual headquarters.

Unilever said the cash and stock offer undervalues the company. Kraft responded that it was committed “to working to reach agreement on the terms of a transaction,” though it said another offer isn’t certain.

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Having It All – By Victoria de Grazia July/August 2016 Issue

CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS -- Keeping up with the Joneses: at a Louis Vuitton store in Shanghai, September 2012

CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS — Keeping up with the Joneses: at a Louis Vuitton store in Shanghai, September 2012

The historian Frank Trentmann has written the first total history of consumption. Empire of Things is an original, ambitious account that begins in the fifteenth century, spans the globe, and examines a wide range of regimes, from liberal democracies to fascist dictatorships. The book could hardly be more relevant: since the Great Recession began in 2007, the world has been mired in a global economic crisis with the consumer at its core. As inequal­ity soared in the years leading up to the crash, middle-class consumers, in the absence of rising incomes, relied on credit to sustain their standards of living. Sensing an opportunity, banks and other financial firms began selling mortgages to people who could not afford them. When the debt bubble burst, millions lost their homes, pensions, and hopes for a more prosperous future. European welfare states introduced harsh austerity measures, Asian domestic demand slowed, and the global economy faltered for years.


This sequence of events revealed the inadequacy of the two prevailing narra­tives about consumption. For classical liberals, the accumulation of material wealth reflects freedom of choice, “the bedrock of democracy and prosperity,” Trentmann writes. According to this narrative, the United States’ victory in the Cold War represented a triumph of economic liberty and individual choice; so successful was the spread of consumer capitalism that it inspired rising middle classes across the globe to stand up to authoritarian regimes. Social democrats and progressives tell a different story. For them, capitalism has fed false desires, turning “active, virtuous citizens into passive, bored consumers.” In this view, Trentmann writes, “private, self-centered hedonism has killed the public spirit.”

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“Sell By” Date Labels Confuse Customers, Increase Food Waste – by Jonathan Bloom This article is best before 5/21/16

Photograph by Brian Finke, National Geographic

May 20, 2016 

Quick quiz:After reading the above date label, do you:

a) Check out the first few sentences to see if it’s any good

b) Read without hesitation because you don’t trust date labels

c) Click away very, very quickly

If you answered a), you’re hopefully now learning that, of course it is! If b), good for you. If you chose c), then you’re in the majority, as a recent national survey found that 84 percent of Americans throw away food based on the date stamped on packages.

That May 2016 study documents a striking amount of confusion over the meaning of the myriad date label terms. Phrases like “best by,” “use before,” and “freshest before” are just plain confusing. And that’s before you consider “expires on,” “sell by,” and the dreaded date without a label. (The study was conducted by Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, along with the National Consumer League.)

Yet, despite that mess, 91 percent of Americans say they pay attention to date labels in making decisions on whether to eat something, according to a 2015 study out of Johns Hopkins. And a a recent Food and Health Survey found that “expiration date” is the most important factor on a food package for seven out of ten Americans when considering purchasing or eating an item.

“These surveys document that consumers are using date labels to make decisions and that they’re throwing away food they don’t have to because of misunderstandings of what those labels mean,” says Roni Neff, a director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a lead author of both the 2015 and 2016 studies.

And those misunderstandings are costly. The recent ReFED report estimated that date labels cost American consumers almost $30 billion annually. That same report found that standardizing date labels could prevent eight million pounds of good, safe food from meeting a premature demise. That would be quite useful in a country where 47 million Americans live in food insecure homes.

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You’re probably shopping for vegetables wrong. Here’s how to do it better. – Updated by Julia Belluz and Javier Zarracina on March 11, 2016, 12:00 p.m. ET

Not all produce is created equal.

I got a first whiff of this truth as a teenager, traveling in Italy. I noticed the pasta sauces and watermelons there popped with much more flavor than those I was accustomed to in North America. In my 20s, I started reading chefs like Alice Waters and Nigel Slater (my favorite) who made a persuasive case for eating in tune with the seasons — not only to get more variety, but also because eating seasonally will inevitably drive you to local markets, where you can buy from small farmers who take farming, and flavor, quite seriously.


Javier Zarracina/Vox

Much of standard produce — the apples, tomatoes, and bananas sold year-round in grocery stores — is bred and selected for size and durability on long journeys, not flavor, as I recently learned. The farmers who supply big supermarkets have to prioritize quantity over quality. And as Mark Schatzker’s fascinating book The Dorito Effect explains, among other things, fresh food produced on a small scale tends to be more nutrient-dense and taste better.


Javier Zarracina/Vox

Yet many of us go to grocery stores on autopilot. We pick our apples and tomatoes for color or shape, and because they’re dependable — they’re always there in the produce aisle, no matter the weather outside. But we ignore how far they’ve traveled and whether it’s the peak of their season. And often, they disappoint us.

There is a better way.

I talked to farmers and people who purchase produce for chefs and specialty markets about what’s in season now (for March, April, and May). These people are pros atpicking the most flavorful of the bunch, supplying kitchens in America that turn out five-star dishes. Here’s what they told me.


Javier Zarracina/Vox

The quest for the best produce should involve shopping in farmers markets wherever possible.

“The fresher the produce is, the better it tastes,” said Bob Harrington, president of Specialty Produce, which supplies hundreds of restaurants and hotels in California.

He suggested starting a conversation with farmers to learn about when certain fruits and vegetables would peak in flavor and what produce is in its prime today. After all, that’s how top chefs plan their menus.

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This War Over GMOs Could Change Your Grocery Shopping Forever – —By Tom Philpott | Fri Mar. 11, 2016 6:00 AM EST


Political forces unleashed in a tiny state like Vermont (pop. 626,000) sometimes reverberate on the national stage, and Bernie Sanders isn’t the only recent example. A food-labeling requirement in Green Mountain State is now roiling the US Senate and the Department of Agriculture, and also has the Grocery Manufacturers Association—a deep-pocketed trade group representing major food processors as well as agrichemical/GMO titans like Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow—in quite a tizzy.

It all started back in 2014, when the Vermont legislature passed a law decreeing that foods containing genetically engineered organisms sold in the state be labeled as such. The law takes effect on July 1 this year. At that point, Big Food will have to figure out how to label only those products destined to be sold in a state with a quarter the population of Brooklyn—or just decide it’s easier to inform consumers across the nation which products contain GM ingredients.

Big Food will have to figure out how to label only products destined to be sold in a state with a quarter the population of Brooklyn.

Unless, that is, those outcomes can be averted by simply crushing the Vermont rule. The industry and its political friends are pursuing a two-pronged strategy, one legal and one political. As the clock winds down and July 1 approaches, both are looking shaky.

On the legal front, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, along with the Snack and Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, sued Vermont in federal court to halt the new law, claiming the legislation “imposes burdensome new speech requirements” and violates the Constitution by “regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce.” The court dismissed an injunction to block the implementation of the GMO labeling law in 2015, and the GMA quickly filed an appeal, which is still pending.

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Big solar is heading for boom times in the US – Updated by David Roberts on March 10, 2016, 9:30 a.m. ET

When people think of solar power, they tend to think of panels on rooftops. That kind of small-scale, distributed solar power is the most visible, gets the most press, and, from the consumer perspective, has the most sex appeal.

But the humble workhorse of solar power is the utility-scale solar power plant, usually defined as a solar array larger than 5 megawatts.

Solar power plants can consist in either PV panels or mirrors that focus sunlight on a fluid that boils and turns a turbine (“concentrating solar power,” or CSP). In practice, most new solar plants these days use PV, which has gotten so cheap so fast that it’s outcompeted CSP and every other solar segment, at least for now.

In 2007, there were zero utility-scale solar power plants in the US. Today there are hundreds, ranging from the 579 MW Solar Star project (the world’s largest solar farm) in California down to dozens upon dozens of 10, 20, and 50 MW projects in communities across the country. (SEIA counts 2,100 solar PV projects over 1 MW.)

Big solar power plants still provide a measly 0.6 percent of overall US electricity. But they are headed up a steep growth curve.

Residential rooftop solar is the fastest growing solar segment, but utility-scale solar is bigger. There’s more installed, so even with its slower growth rate it adds more capacity each year — in 2015, it accounted for 57 percent of all new installed solar capacity.

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UPS Struggles to Keep Up With Surge in Web Orders – By Laura Stevens Dec. 10, 2015 8:09 p.m. ET

On-time delivery rates are strained as more shoppers buy online

UPS has been slammed with unexpectedly high volumes, extra pickups and not enough staff and equipment to handle all of the packages in some locations.

UPS has been slammed with unexpectedly high volumes, extra pickups and not enough staff and equipment to handle all of the packages in some locations. Photo: Reuters

United Parcel Service Inc. is straining to handle a surge in online sales that has resulted in more holiday volume than it had expected, causing a wave of disruptions that could spell trouble for the holiday season.

On-time delivery rates for UPS ground packages based on their normal shipping transit times last week fell to 91%, according to an analysis of millions of packages by software developer ShipMatrix Inc. During the same week last year, the on-time rate was 97%, which is UPS’s usual average during nonpeak months.  FedEx Corp. ’s early numbers were also lower than usual at an estimated 95%.

UPS has been slammed with unexpectedly high volumes, extra pickups and not enough staff and equipment to handle all of the packages in some locations, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Volumes are coming in much higher than planned,” said John Haber, CEO of Spend Management Experts, who advises retailers on shipping matters. “You can only process so much volume so quickly.”

UPS this week assigned managers from corporate headquarters in Atlanta and elsewhere to work at delivery centers in Austin, Texas, Latham, N.Y., and other locations to handle the additional packages.

A UPS spokesman said that “UPS did experience some high impact areas” driven by volume in some places that came in at “levels greater than the original peak plan for those locations.” He added that it is typical that retailers may have more volume than they expected, and UPS sends management teams each year to those sites affected.

Online sales surged more than expected over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and into last week. Consumers spent an estimated $4.45 billion online on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with Black Friday sales rising 14% from a year ago, according to Adobe Systems Inc., which tracks purchases across 4,500 U.S. sites. It estimated that more than half of Black Friday shopping came from mobile devices.

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