March  23, 2018

Today's News Summary:

Headlining the news today is a focus on how Chinaís threat of steep tariffs on American pork imports will put further pressure on an industry already facing weaker demand from the worldís top buyer of the meat. Beijing said on Friday it was considering levying an additional 15 percent tariff on U.S. products including dried fruit, wine and steel pipes, and an extra 25 percent duty on pork products and recycled aluminum in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum. Some industry participants said the tariffs and the threat of a brewing trade war between China and the United States would create more Chinese demand for European pork exporters, who have boosted supplies to China in the last two years after sanctions on Russia closed one of the regionís key markets.

Meanwhile, the National Pork Producers Council warned that possible Chinese tariffs on U.S. pork could have a significant negative impact on rural America. China has indicated it will impose the duties in response to U.S. tariffs and restrictions Ė announced today Ė being placed on a host of Chinese goods.

In other news, Target and Kroger are discussing a possible merger. The talks come as the grocery industry grapples with Amazonís increasing hold on the market. The two companies first started conversations last summer about a partnership that could improve Targetís grocery business and give Kroger customers more access to merchandise and e-commerce.

An executive exodus is under way at Whole Foods, as Inc. integrates the pioneering natural grocer into its retail empire. More than a dozen executives and senior managers have left since Amazon acquired Whole Foods last year, according to former employees and recruiters steering them to new jobs. People who have left include leaders of the bakery, produce, sustainability and local-foods divisions.

Conagra Brands Inc., the maker of Huntís ketchup and Slim Jim meat snacks, said it expects a higher annual profit this year despite rising costs for ingredients and shipping. Conagra on Thursday projected adjusted earnings of up to $2.05 a share for its fiscal year ending in May, about 8% higher than it expected previously.

For the first time in nearly two years, Kentucky Farm Bureauís Marketbasket Survey indicated food prices increased slightly during the first quarter of 2018. Each quarter, 40 basic food items are price-checked throughout the state to gauge current food-price trends. Since the end of 2016, surveyed food items had dropped by a total of $3.79 or just over three percent. This upward movement in food prices amounts to 1.35 percent or $1.56 more than the price of the same items surveyed during the last quarter of 2017. The total price for all 40 items came to $115.67. While this current survey indicates a rise in prices, as compared to a year ago at the same time, this increase amounts to less than a quarter of a percent.

Finally today, our weekly retail column reports that March is certainly not going out like lamb in 2018, as Northeasterners were so harshly reminded this past week. With significant snow on the ground following the latest winter storm, it hardly feels like spring! Nonetheless, Easter is just over a week away. Looking at buying opportunities, ham features next week are on pace for significant growth.

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By Linda Lindner

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