Category Archives: Food

GMO’s Just Got A Lot More Frightening With Approval Of New Monsanto Product

Albertson’s Reveal Supermarket Meltdown as Global Deep-Discounters Promise Price Wars in US Markets

Aldi’s $5 billion bet at a brutal time.

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Aldi Market on Biscayne Boulevard In Miami Florida.

Today, Albertson’s explained in an amended S-4 filing for a debt exchange offering just how tough things have gotten for traditional supermarket chains.

As is so often the case, there is a private equity angle to it. Albertson’s was acquired in a 2005 LBO by a group of PE firms led by Cerberus. In January 2015, it acquired Safeway to eliminate some competition. It then wanted to sell its shares to the public. But in October 2015, as brick-and-mortar retail began to melt down, it scrapped its IPO.

The filing’s most revealing data are same-store sales on a quarterly basis through Q4, 2016, comparing year-over-year sales growth at stores that have been open in the current and prior year. I added the red line to show the trend since Q3 2015:

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The S-4 supplied some reasons for the decline:

Our identical store sales decrease in fiscal 2016 was driven by a decrease of 1.9% in customer traffic partially offset by an increase of 1.5% in average ticket size. During fiscal 2016 our identical store sales were negatively impacted by food price deflation in certain categories, including meat, eggs and dairy, together with pressure to maintain competitive pricing in response.

The two key factors boil down to competition, precisely what the Safeway acquisition was supposed to have eliminated:

  • A “1.9% decline in customer traffic.”
  • “Pressure to maintain competitive pricing in response.”

In other words, starting in Q1 2016, competition pushed previously strong same-store sales growth off the cliff.

Given a series of acquisitions by Albertson’s over the years, total sales rose. The following are sales for the 12-month periods:

  • Through Feb. 2015: $27.2 billion
  • Through Feb. 2016: $58.7 billion (includes Safeway)
  • Through Feb. 2017:  $59.7 billion (includes 29 Haggen Stores and 76 A&P stores)

At the end of 2013, the company had 1,075 stores. It then acquired, divested, opened, and closed numerous stores. By the end of 2015, it had 2,271 stores. And by the end of 2016, it had 2,324 stores.

So in 2016, the net store count increased 2.3% but revenues inched up only 1.7%. Hence the decline in same store sales.

During those three 12-month periods respectively, the company had losses before income taxes of: $1.38 billion, $541 million, and $463.6 billion.

And it had total debt of a breath-taking $12.3 billion as of February 25, 2017, up from $3.7 billion in 2013 before the acquisition of Safeway and the other chains.

It’s not going to get better anytime soon.

On Sunday, Aldi announced it would invest $3.4 billion to expand its base in the US to 2,500 stores by 2022. The privately held discount-grocery chain headquartered in Germany already has over 1,600 stores in the US. It also owns Trader Joe’s, which has an additional 464 grocery stores. In February, Aldi had announced that it would add 400 stores by the end of 2018 and spend $1.6 billion to “remodel and expand” 1,300 of its stores by 2020.

This would bring its newly announced investment in the US to $5 billion. The expansion will make Aldi the third-largest grocery chain operator in the US behind Wal-Mart and Kroger, the company said. And it’s going to compete on price.

“As we continue to expand and grow, our purchasing power continues to increase and allows us to bring products at better prices for consumers,” Scott Patton, Aldi’s head of corporate buying, told Reuters.

Another German grocery store chain, deep-discounter Lidl with 10,000 stores in 27 European countries has plans to open as many as 600 stores in the US, it revealed in May. Its first store will open on June 15. It expects to have 100 stores along the East Coast a year from now. It said it would undercut competitors by up to 50%.

This threat by arch-competitor Lidl stimulated Aldi’s thinking; CEO Jason Hart Hart said in a statement that Aldi’s prices also would be about 50% below those of traditional grocery stores.

Aldi has always focused on in-house brands to obtain the deepest price cuts. The company’s shares aren’t publicly traded, and quarterly earnings reports don’t cause any kind of ruckus.

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, booked a sales increase of 5% in 2016, but its net income fell 4.5%, and its shares, after a series of earnings disappointments, are down over 25% from the end of 2015, even as the rest of the stock market was booming.

Then there’s Wal-Mart Stores, the second largest grocery seller in the US. It’s experimenting with lower prices in 11 states and is hounding its vendors to undercut their competitors by 15%. According to analysts cited by Reuters, it’s willing to spend $6 billion on these efforts.

Target too has been plowing more aggressively into the grocery market. Online grocery sales are taking sales away from brick-and-mortar locations. Amazon is now more than just dabbling in it. Everybody wants into this $630-billion-a-year market.

Alas, over the past six years, sales at grocery stores are up a total of 14%, not adjusted for inflation, according to the retail trade report by the Commerce Department. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index for food rose 14%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So in inflation-adjusted terms, over the past six years, “real” sales have been flat.

The price war will be a godsend for consumers, at least for a while. But what gives?

Shares of Whole Foods Market have fallen 42% since late 2013 as it grapples with the new environment. And there have been 18 bankruptcies among US grocery store chains since 2014, according to Reuters, including Marsh Supermarkets and Central Grocers in May and Fairway Group Holdings, parent of the “iconic” New York chain Fairway Market, a year ago.

This is the environment that over-indebted Albertson’s and its private-equity backers hadn’t planned on finding themselves in. Beyond PE firm Cerberus, the backers include real-estate investors Klaff Realty and Lubert-Adler, REIT Kimco Realty, and shopping center owner Schottenstein Stores.

To unload the company in an IPO on the unsuspecting public and conniving institutional investors managing the unsuspecting public’s money, the backers must have a buoyant and blind stock market because for equity investors, this must be one of the most toxic combinations: a brick-and-mortar supermarket chain in the age of online sales that was bought by a PE firm, loaded up with debt as it became a supermarket roll-up, in a stagnant market that is attracting the biggest deep-discounters from around the world.

By Wolf Richter | Wolf Street

USDA Reports Honey Bee Colony Losses Increase

The USDA just released a report on the state of America’s honey bees, and the news is sour.

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As this Reuters graphic shows, beekeepers reported a loss of 42.1 percent of their colonies in 2014/2015. Summer losses were 27.4 percent, and for the first time on record exceeded the winter rate, which was 23.1 percent. More than two-thirds of the 6,128 beekeepers surveyed reported winter loss rates above the 18.7 percent rate deemed the tipping point for economic sustainability. 

Bees impact 50-80 percent of the global food supply, so the issue extends beyond healthy sweeteners. A Cornell University study reported that insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to the U.S. farm economy, and the country has an estimated 2.74 million managed bee colonies which pollinate one-third of the country’s fruit and vegetable crops.

Indeed, the situation is serious enough to attract Washington’s attention: A subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture convened this week for a public hearing on pollinator health.

Article by Mike Corones | Reuters

Scenes From The Venezuela Apocalypse: “Countless Wounded” After 5,000 Loot Supermarket Looking For Food

Over the last several years we have documented with clockwork regularity Venezuela’s collapse into failed state status, which was cemented several weeks ago when news hit that “Venezuela had officially run out of money to print new money.”  At that point the best one could do was merely to step back and watch as local society and civilization turned on itself, unleashing what would ultimately turn into Venezuela’s own, sad apocalypse.

Last night we showed what Caracas, looks like this week:

As we wrote then these are simply hungry Venezuelans protesting that their children are dying from lack of food and medicine and that they do not have enough water or electricity. As AgainstCronyCapitalism added, this is a country with more oil than Saudi Arabia, and the government has stolen all the money and now they bottleneck peaceful protesters and threaten them with bombs (or haul them to prison and torture them).

As pure desperation has set in, crime has becomes inevitable. A man accused of mugging people in the streets of Caracas was surrounded by a mob of onlookers, beaten and set on fire, who published a pixeled-out but still graphic video of the man burning as mob justice is now the supreme arbiter of who lives and who dies:

“Roberto Fuentes Bernal, 42, was reportedly caught trying to mug passersby in the Venezuelan capital, and before police arrived at the scene, the crowd took the law into their own hands.” The video can be seen here.

Now, in the latest shocking development, Venezuela saw a new wave of looting this week that resulted in at least two deaths, countless wounded, and millions of dollars in losses and damages.

According to Panampost, on Wednesday morning, a crowd sacked the Maracay Wholesale Market in the central region of Venezuela.  According to the testimonies of merchants, the endless food lines that Venezuelans have been enduring to do groceries could not be organized that day.

As time went by, desperate Venezuelans grew anxious over not being able to buy food. Then they started jumping over the gates and stormed the supermarket.

“They took milk, pasta, flour, oil, and milk powder. There were 5,000 people” one witness told Venezuela outlet El Estímulo.

People from across the entire state came to the supermarket because there were rumors that some products not found anywhere else would be sold there.

As a result of the massive crowd, the authorities were unable to preserve the peace. “There were 250 people for each National Guard officer… lots of people and few soldiers. At least one officer was beat up because he tried to stop the crowd,” another source told El Estímulo.

Other food dispensaries run by the government were also looted by the people.

Far from the promised socialist paradise, as the massive group of people moved, an entrance gate collapsed under the weight of the crowd, leaving several wounded.

The image below shows a human stampede over rice.

Over the last two weeks, several provinces have hosted scenes of looting in pharmacies, shopping malls, supermarkets, and food delivery trucks. In several markets, shouts of “we are hungry!” echoed. On April 27, the Venezuelan Chamber of Food (Cavidea) reported that the country’s food producers only had 15 days left of inventory.

PanamPost adds that lootings are becoming an increasingly common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket — this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas.

Venezuelans lost control this week when offered small portions

Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people “broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.”

In the central province of Carabobo, residents ransacked a corn warehouse located in the coastal city of Puerto Cabello. They reportedly broke down the gate because workers were giving away small portions.

“There’s no rice, no pasta, no flour,” resident Glerimar Yohan told La Costa, “only hunger.”

* * *

Social Collapse Is Inevitable

With the economy dead, the only thing remaining is to watch as society implodes. To that end, Oscar Meza, Director of the Documentation Center for Social Analysis (Cendas-FVM), said that measurements of scarcity and inflation in May are going to be the worst to date. “We are officially declaring May as the month that [widespread] hunger began in Venezuela,” he told Web Noticias Venezuela. … “As for March, there was an increase in yearly prices due to inflation — a 582.9 percent increase for food, while the level of scarcity of basic products remains at 41.37 percent.”


“We are officially declaring May as the month that hunger began
in Venezuela,” says an NGO that measures inflation and scarcity

Meza said the trigger for the crisis is the shortage of bread and other foods derived from wheat.

“Prices are so high that you can’t buy anything, so people don’t buy bread, they don’t buy flour. You get porridge, you see the price of chicken go up and families struggle … lunch is around 1,500 bolivars… People used to take food from home to work, but now you can’t anymore because you don’t have food at home.”

The is why, Español Ramón Muchacho, Mayor of Chacao in Caracas, said the streets of the capital of Venezuela are filled with people killing animals for food. “Muchacho reported that in Venezuela, it is a “painful reality” that people “hunt cats, dogs and pigeons” to ease their hunger.”

Subsquently, Muchacho warned that Caribbean islands and Colombia may suffer an influx of refugees from Venezuela if food shortages continue in the country.

“As hunger deepens, we could see more Venezuelans fleeing by land or sea to an island,” Muchacho said.

And that is how all socialist utopias always end.

* * *

Meanwhile, as civil war appears inevitable, as previously reported there are factions vying to oust Maduro, although we are confident the dictator will hang on for dear life (literally) and force his population to endure more of this socialist nightmare. One can only hope that these shocking scenes remain relegated to the streets of offshore socialist paradises, although Americans should always prepare for the worst in case they eventually manage to make their way into the country.

Source: ZeroHedge


Is A Venezuela Coup Imminent? An Interview With A National Guardsman

Following several very disturbing stories about the start of Venezuela’s social apocalypse, in the first case chronicling “Streets Filled With People Killing Animals For Food” and then last night documenting “Countless Wounded” After 5,000 Loot Supermarket Looking For Food, we concluded that “as civil war appears inevitable, as there are factions vying to oust Maduro, although we are confident the dictator will hang on for dear life (literally) and force his population to endure more of this socialist nightmare.”

Today, now that speculation about a coup and/or civil war is becoming ever louder, we address some of these concerns courtesy of a must-read interview with a member of Bolivarian National Guard, the country’s national guardsmen, conducted by PanAm Post, which provides a critical blueprint of the next very tragic steps in Venezuela, which unfortunately now appear certainly to conclude with a national coup.

From PanAm Post:

Venezuela Is on the Brink of Social Collapse” National Guardsman

Food Shortages Cause Daily Looting, Energy Crisis Worsens as National State of Emergency Approaches

At the moment, the armed forces’ position vis-à-vis the government is not clear. Some speculate that the Bolivarian National Guard is divided. Others claim that the regime exerts full control over the Bolivarian National Guard’s members. The only certainty is that uncertainty abounds.

The PanAm Post had the opportunity to interview a Bolivarian National Guard member of middle rank, who asked to remain anonymous since his views could expose him to danger.

Why has the state launched an offensive against criminal groups?

The situation was getting out of hand for political reasons. The state has no means to control criminal groups. The country’s jails are in chaos. The streets themselves are in chaos. The state’s security personnel are unarmed.

The Maduro regime created the Organization for the Protection and Liberation for the People (OLP) to fight organized crime. Has that organization committed illegal acts as well?

From a legal standpoint, yes. Now from the point of view of the general population, no, because they tolerate harsh methods against the criminal bands.

But do they only kill criminals?

In the majority of cases.

Is the OLP really carrying out its operations strictly to end gang violence?

That is their main purpose. But there is also a political element. The OLP’s creation was a desperate measure. The government had given liberty to the gangs to do what they please. They armed them and now they are attacking them.

Is the OLP at war with gangs and with government officials at the same time?

Yes, because they can’t control them. They have become too powerful. They are armed and they teach military strategy. These criminals used to fight against each other. Now they have a truce between them and they fight the military and other security forces. They say, “as long as we kill them, we’ll survive.”

Does the state benefit by arming gangs? What is the regime trying to achieve?

Their goal is to have armed groups on their side in case of political turmoil. That is the final goal. Disarmament laws only affect innocent people. Criminal have many more weapons than we do at the National Guard. They also have much more power. We can’t control that now. Any solution will come too late.

The economic crisis and the public health crisis are becoming uncontrollable. The security forces are competent, but the government had to realize that the criminals were killing us all before they acted against them.

How corrupt is is the National Guard?

There is corruption in the National Guard, and there always has been. The difference is that, before, the system was more efficient. The National Guard decayed when it became political. Since we started to vote and to take part in the country’s political life, there has been no peace in the ranks.

Now there is pressure on us because we have to follow the constitution, but we also have to be loyal to our higher officers even when their orders don’t correspond to the laws. If their orders contradict the laws, you can’t follow them. So there is a rift between the security forces and the other institutions.

The government has an apparatus for persecution and espionage, so you can’t make negative statements about functionaries. The security services themselves are plagued by informants. You have to watch your every word.

All of those military upheavals denouncing the government, those attempts to overthrow the government — are they real?

No, the majority are false. There won’t be any coup attempts in Venezuela.

Why not?

Right now, all elements of the armed forces are under control. A coup-d’état takes place when you reach a breaking point and someone in the higher echelons of the armed forces decides that it’s time to act against the government. Right now in Venezuela, there are political divisions within the armed forces. There is neither the necessary unity nor the necessary organization for a coup to take place. Besides, officers fear the government’s informants. Everyone is on guard.

What will result from the current discontent?

The army and the National Guard are waiting. I can assure you that we are quite unhappy. But there is an entire structure above us, so it’s not easy to act. We receive criticism from all sides. Wherever I go, I come face to face with civilians’ displeasure and complaints. I also think the opposition has failed to take advantage of its opportunities to topple the government.

How so?

For example, when they won the parliamentary elections last December, the atmosphere was tense. The entire leadership knew what would happen. So did we. Former Speaker of the House Diosdado Cabello was willing to take the armed forces to the street against the opposition, but Padrino López, the Minister of Defense, didn’t allow him to do so.

What happened exactly on December 6?

The stories are true. That day there was a strong discussion between Padrino López and Cabello. López told Cabello that, if he ordered the troops to take the streets, he was going to have the army kill him.

But did Padrino López only do it to save his own skin?

Of course. He would have been responsible if the army started to massacre people. López was not going to allow that to happen. So that day the army was ordered to guard the opposition.

On whose side does Padrino López find himself? That day, a rumor got out that he was defending Chávez’s revolution.

Padrino López is intelligent, and I don’t doubt that he’s a chavista. But all branches of the armed forces are dissatisfied with the current situation. Imagine if one day they let Diosdado Cabello commit a massacre. If something like that occurs, the army will support President Maduro.

And what has the Bolivarian National Guard done during the recent demonstrations? Why has the army remained silent?

Those are two different situations. Like I said, government intelligence is an obstacle to action. The risk of not obeying orders is very large, but there is a lot of discontent and resentment due to the measures carried out by the Bolivarian National Guard and other officials.

If discontent is so widespread, why is there no talk of a coup?

That’s already been discussed. The coup d’état, we hope, will not be repeated. We remember what happened in 2002 with Chávez and we don’t want something similar to happen in the future.

We are rather waiting for things to get truly out of hand. And that will happen in the following months. The situation is extremely unstable and the status quo can’t last. We are witnessing daily looting at supermarkets, and people are protesting.

The crisis at Guri Dam (Venezuela’s most important hydroelectric power station) will get worse. Everything will get worse and there will be an implosion.

At that moment, the country’s future will be determined. I don’t believe there’s much time left.

Are you sure that something drastic will happen soon?

Without a doubt. The Bolivarian National Guard has already discussed the matter.

The situation in Venezuela has never been as bad as it is now. The breaking point is near, but still not at hand. My recommendation is for people to prepare, to look for food and then to store it. Obviously, when the implosion occurs , it won’t last long. I believe it will last something like 10 days, but they will be difficult days.

There will be a state of emergency, and that will bring the crisis to an end.

What will happen with the recall referendum that the opposition is trying to unleash against President Maduro?

That’s not a serious option. The regime has demonstrated that it can violate the constitution without second thoughts. They are going to accept the referendum, but only if they know they can win with any method available. The situation will only come to a head when hunger and the lack of electricity force people to take direct action.

So are the Armed Forces ready for a social catastrophe to take place?

We are really willing to intervene if the country undergoes a social catastrophe. It’s as if we have water in a pot and it begins to boil very slowly. There will be a moment when, if the gas is not turned off, the water begins to overflow and disaster ensues.

Source: ZeroHedge

Ruffling Feathers: Farmers reveal secrets of chicken meat trade in America

Chicken farms in the US are notoriously hard to access if you’re not involved in the industry. But one American farmer, contracted to a meat processing company, has thrown open the barn doors. He claims firms routinely mislead customers about the conditions the birds are reared in and their health. Maria Finoshina went to meet him.