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The Kroger Co. has completed the sale of its convenience store business unit to EG Group for $2.15 billion; $1.2 billion of the proceeds will be used to fund an accelerated share repurchase program.krolog

Included in the sale were 762 convenience stores, including 66 franchise operations, operating in 18 states and employing 11,000 associates under the following banner names: Turkey Hill, Loaf 'N Jug, Kwik Shop, Tom Thumb and Quik Stop. Kroger's supermarket fuel centers and its Turkey Hill Dairy were not included in the sale. EG Group will establish their North American headquarters in Cincinnati and continue to operate stores under their established banner names.

"Throughout the sales process, we have been impressed with EG Group's professionalism, commitment to people, and understanding of the U.S. convenience retail market," said Mike Schlotman, Kroger's executive vice president and chief financial officer. "I can't stress enough how important to our success Kroger's convenience store management and associates have been, and we want to thank them for all of their contributions to our customers and our company."

Kroger announced in October 2017 its intention to explore strategic alternatives for its convenience store business, including a potential sale, in conjunction with Restock Kroger. In February, Kroger and EG Group announced a definitive agreement for the sale of Kroger's convenience store business unit to EG Group.

Kroger entered into an ASR agreement today with Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC, pursuant to which on April 24 Kroger will pay $1.2 billion to Goldman, who will make an initial delivery to Kroger of approximately 36.1 million Kroger common shares.  The total number of shares that Kroger ultimately will receive under the ASR will be based generally on the average of the daily volume-weighted average prices of shares traded during the term of the agreement, subject to a collar provision that will establish minimum and maximum numbers of shares to be repurchased.  The $1.2 billion ASR is an additional repurchase authorization approved by Kroger's board of directors, which is incremental to the $1 billion share repurchase program announced on March 15.

"Kroger is committed to creating shareholder value," said Schlotman. "We are returning a significant amount of capital to shareholders through a $1.2 billion accelerated share repurchase program authorized by our board of directors."

Mann Packing Co. has two additions to its award-winning line of Nourish Bowls: Fresh Veggie Pastas with plant-based

Following the successful launch last year of its Spicy Thai Nourish Bowls featuring fresh kohlrabi noodles, the company is now adding to the line with Basil Pesto and Tomato Bolognese. They are among the first warm veggie meals to feature plant-based protein, with vegan Chick’n in the pesto sauce and vegan sausage in the Bolognese.

Leveraging huge growth in plant-based products (8.1 percent) and consumers’ desire for healthy, plant-based eating, each of the new Fresh Veggie Pastas are low in calories and feature kohlrabi noodles that cook, taste and twirl like real pasta.

In addition to kohlrabi, the Basil Pesto Nourish Bowls include shredded kale, zesty sauce and grated parmesan. At only 340 calories, the Basil Pesto bowls are packed with 15 grams of plant-based protein. The Tomato Bolognese Nourish Bowls include marinara sauce, shredded carrots and grated parmesan, and at only 260 calories, the bowls offer 14 grams of plant-based protein. Both bowls can be prepared in four minutes in the microwave.

The new additions join Spicy Thai, Monterey Risotto, Sesame Sriracha, Southwest Chipotle, Bacon Maple Brussels, and Cauli Rice Curry in the Nourish Bowl lineup of single-serve, warm meals.

Nourish Bowls appeal to a wide demographic, from moms to Millennials — 60 percent of whom eat plant-based proteins — and have gained over 41,000 points of distribution across North America.

“We filled a demand in the market when we created Nourish Bowls, which have become increasingly popular for their convenience and health halo,” said Rick Russo, vice president of sales, marketing and product management at Mann’s. “Naturally, we are thrilled to launch Basil Pesto and Tomato Bolognese featuring kohlrabi noodles and plant-based protein.”

The new Nourish Bowls will be on display in booth No. 1219 at the CPMA Annual Convention, April 24-26 in Vancouver.

As California Cuties season winds down this month, Sun Pacific’s flagship brand reports an increase in preference and purchase intent among its target audience, millennial parents.100DaysPost

A 2017 Brand Love study conducted by youth research firm Smarty Pants named Cuties the preferred produce brand of parents at the start of the citrus season. After the wrap of this season’s “100 Days of Sunshine” campaign, marketing research by W5 shows that Cuties remains the preferred mandarin brand of parents, posting an 11-point increase in preference compared with its top competitor.

“The positivity of our brand and family-friendly focus resonates with parents,” said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing and business development at Sun Pacific. “Our goal this season was to nurture deep, long-lasting relationships with parents to increase engagement, brand preference and drive customers to our retail partners.”

Cuties’ innovative partnership with iHeart Media and social influencers during “100 Days” allowed forcustom experiences with audiences and approached nearly half a million impressions across social, radio, digital, events, OOH and retail. Among the campaign’s highlights were social contests withprominent iHeart Media personalities such as Mario Lopez and Bobby Bones.The first ever Cuties Correspondent contest sent two kid correspondents backstage at an iHeart Radio Jingle Ball concert in Miami to interview celebrities. In January, Cuties fans shared stories of kindness with the hashtag #ShareSomethingSweet to win thousands of dollars in cash prizes. Both contests, which were activated on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, garnered nationwide entries.

Hundreds of popular parenting, food and lifestyle influencers also aligned with the brand this season to drive purchase intent and preference. The Glitter Guide, Savvy Saving Couple and Domestic Superhero were among those who curated DIYs, recipes and family-friendly activities, reaching more than 36 million parents and fans. Content from these influencers was repurposed on Cuties social channels, where the brand saw 200 percent growth on Facebook and a newly launched Instagram page.

“100 Days of Sunshine was more than a campaign,” Nager said. “At a time when families across the country needed it the most, Cuties reminded them to share sweetness and kindness with those around them.”

The 100 Days of Sunshine campaign kicked off Nov. 1 and concluded on National Random Acts of Kindness Day on Feb. 17.

Nager said California Cuties will be available at most retailers through April or until they sell out. Summer Cuties return to select retailers beginning in June.

Tops has added five new Chef’d meal kit varieties to its two fan favorites. Chef’d meal kits, offered exclusively at Tops, are ideal for busy individuals and families on the go. Now with seven varieties of delicious choices to choose from, one for every night of the week, Chef’d meal kits take the pre-planning out of nightly meals and put time back in the consumer's day.chef

“Chef'd answers the question for the person who says — I still want to feel like I've done all the cooking myself, but I don't want to dedicate two hours to go through the whole process,” said Jeff Culhane, senior vice president of merchandising for Tops. “They are a great option for those looking for a well-balanced meal too. Because they're using fresh ingredients, there are less preservatives. You have a good balance between protein, carbs and veggies.”

These dinner-made-easy meals offer generous portions for two of fresh, simple ingredients allowing you to make a healthy meal, every time, in as little as 10 minutes often with plenty of left-overs to enjoy the next day. Pre-portioned ingredients take the guess work out of measuring, simple step-by-step recipe instructions are included, and unlike other meal kits, there are no subscription plans required.

The meal kit varieties are 20 Clove Garlic Chicken, Black Truffle Butter Sirloin Steak, Smoky Maple Pork Loin, Chicken Tikka Masala, Fried Chicken and Waffles, Weeknight Chicken Pad Thai and Herb Crusted Flank Steaks.

Tops originally launched the Chef’d line in November of 2017. Chef’d partners with celebrated chefs and is led by an award-winning culinary team with more than 30 years of experience in the food industry. Bringing that experience and expertise from their kitchens to customer’s tables to share with their families is something Tops is very excited to stand behind.

These meal kits are the result of a partnership between Smithfield, a global food company, and Chef’d, allowing the teams to combine Smithfield’s unique knowledge of product development, sourcing capabilities, distribution network, and brand portfolio with Chef’d’s world-famous chefs, portfolio of delicious dishes, and direct-to-consumer experience.

HERMOSILLO, SONORA, MEXICO -- Mexico is expected to export 15.85 million boxes of table grapes this spring. This is a decrease by 24 percent, or 5.16 million boxes, from last year’s record crop of 21 million boxes. This year’s total is regarded by the Mexican grape industry as a normal level, with plenty of grapes for retail promotions this spring. Grape quality is regarded as very high.2018-4-19-1625-Perlettes

The main Sonoran grape harvest is to begin in the first days of May. This grape deal will run into early July.

These numbers were released to The Produce News early April 20 as Mexico’s grape industry and its suppliers gathered at Hermosillo’s Los Lagos golf club for the announcement. Juan Laborin, director general of AALPUM, indicated that the estimate was derived from his contact with every grower, asking for last year’s final export numbers. The growers individually provided 2018 estimates for different types of grapes.

AALPUM, the Mexican grape growers association, is based in Hermosillo. AALPUM is an acronym for Asociación Agrícola Local de Productores de Uva de Mesa.

Mid-season green seedless grapes for export are expected to take the largest hit in production in 2018, dropping 30 percent from a total of 4.4 million cases in 2017 to 3.1 million cases this year.

Early green seedless are expected to be down 28 percent to 2.6 million cases. Early green seedless production in 2017 was 3.6 million cases.

Red seedless varieties this year will be down 23 percent from 10.1 million cases last season. The 2018 estimate is for 7.8 million boxes of red seedless table grapes from Mexico.

Red seeded, black and other varieties are each expected to be down 15 percent this spring. Red seeded export production this year is estimated to be 584,000 cases. Black grape volume is anticipated to be 1.1 million boxes. Other varieties should total 713,000 boxes.

Laborin was to offer full comments on the estimate mid-day in Hermosillo, but in recent weeks, he and other industry leaders had stressed that last year's crop had broken all records. Early unofficial guesstimates proved to be highly accurate at 16 million. That volume is regarded a normal. Thus, they stressed retailers will have plenty of promotable volumes and noted the industry will need those promotions to move their healthy crop.

The volume is lower than last year because of unusually high heat in Sonora in December, January and February. In late February, there was frost damage in some districts which lowered productivity. While there are new production areas coming into production in Mexico, those table grape volumes outside of Sonora for 2018 are not yet significant.

On April 20, AALPUM was also releasing recommended retail promotion dates. Promotions for early green seedless would be ideal running from May 22 to June 11. AALPUM encourages red seedless promotions for the five weeks from May 22 to June 25. A four-week span, June 5-July 2, is recommended for green seedless grapes. And red seedless will be available for promotable volumes in the span of May 29 to June 18.

The Produce News will provide further details after the April 20 meeting.