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General Mills Just Bought Annie’s, The Organic Mac-And-Cheese Maker

September 8, 2014 AP 0

NEW YORK (AP) — Packaged food giant General Mills plans to buy Annie’s, the maker of rabbit-shaped mac and cheese, for $820 million, adding more natural and organic packaged offerings as consumers’ tastes change.

General Mills Inc., the company behind classic food brands such as Pillsbury dough, Progresso soups, Yoplait yogurts and Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, has been trying to cut cost and has tweaked its recipes as sales stagnate.

Sales have suffered as Greek yogurt and breakfast sandwiches became popular options for the morning meal. General Mills was slow to realize the growing demand for Greek yogurt, which has more protein than regular yogurt, but it has been adding some other options that it hopes consumers will consider healthier. Those include new Fiber One cookies with 5 grams of fiber and 120 calories.

Annie’s sales, on the other hand, grew 20 percent in its latest fiscal year. General Mills said Monday that Annie’s “convenient meals” and snacks businesses were particularly attractive. Annie’s also makes other pastas, frozen pizzas, and snacks like crackers and fruit snacks.

The Minneapolis-based company is paying $46 per share for Annie’s Inc., which is based in Berkeley, California.

Annie’s board endorsed the offer, which is expected to close later this year. The company went public in March 2012 at $19 per share.

Annie’s stock jumped 37 percent in aftermarket trading to $45.97. Its shares have dropped 25 percent over the past 12 months. It has dealt with rising costs for organic wheat and noted “material weaknesses” in its financial reporting. Its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said in June that it would resign.

General Mills stock rose 99 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $54.50 in after-hours trading. Its shares have gained 8.8 percent in the last 12 months.

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Costco’s Sales Are Blowing Away Expectations

September 4, 2014 AP 0

ISSAQUAH, Wash. (AP) — Costco’s August sales at stores open at least a year climbed 7 percent, which was much better than industry watchers had expected.

Comparable-store sales are a key gauge of a retailer’s health because it excludes the volatility from stores that have been recently opened or closed.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had been looking for an increase of only 4.8 percent.

Domestic sales led the way, rising 7 percent, compared with 6 percent internationally.

And if the impact of lower gas prices and foreign currency fluctuations are stripped away, global sales at stores open at least a year climbed 8 percent. By that measure, sales rose 8 percent overseas and 7 percent in the U.S.

Revenue for the four weeks ended Aug. 31 increased 10 percent to $8.8 billion.

For the fourth quarter, Costco Wholesale Corp. said that sales at stores open at least a year rose 6 percent. The U.S. and overseas both posted 6 percent gains.

Excluding the impact of lower gas prices and foreign currency fluctuations, sales at stores open at least a year climbed 7 percent. In the U.S. the figure rose 6 percent. It increased 8 percent abroad.

Fourth-quarter total revenue climbed 9 percent to $34.8 billion.

Full-year sales at stores open at least a year increased 4 percent. The U.S. reported a 5 percent rise. Internationally, the figure rose 3 percent.

Taking out the impact of lower gas prices and foreign currency fluctuations, sales at stores open at least a year climbed 6 percent. In the U.S. the metric rose 5 percent. Internationally, the figure increased 7 percent.

Total revenue for the year climbed 7 percent to $110.2 billion.

Costco, based in Issaquah, Washington, ended fiscal 2014 with 663 locations, including 468 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, 88 in Canada, 33 in Mexico, 26 in the U.K., 20 in Japan, 11 in Korea, 10 in Taiwan, six in Australia and one in Spain. It plans to open up to an additional nine new warehouse stores before the calendar year ends.

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Starbucks Apologizes For Not Letting Woman’s Service Dog Into Store

September 3, 2014 AP 0

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Starbucks has apologized to a 24-year-old woman who said she wasn’t allowed in a Rochester-area store because she had a service dog.

The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester reports (http://on.rocne.ws/1rlLHnL) that Amy Kaplan of suburban Brighton said she was denied service after entering a Starbucks on Sunday afternoon with her service dog, a malamute named Zero.

Kaplan suffered a traumatic brain injury in a traffic accident, and the dog helps her cope with memory issues and anxiety.

She posted a video to YouTube in which an employee tells her she can’t come in the store with a service dog.

A Starbucks official told Kaplan in an email that he wanted to personally apologize.

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In America, Only The Poor’s Eating Habits Aren’t Improving

September 1, 2014 AP 0

CHICAGO (AP) — Americans’ eating habits have improved — except among the poor, evidence of a widening wealth gap when it comes to diet. Yet even among wealthier adults, food choices remain far from ideal, a 12-year study found.

On an index of healthy eating where a perfect score is 110, U.S. adults averaged just 40 points in 1999-2000, climbing steadily to 47 points in 2009-10, the study found.

Scores for low-income adults were lower than the average and barely budged during the years studied. They averaged almost four points lower than those for high-income adults at the beginning; the difference increased to more than six points in 2009-10.

Higher scores mean greater intake of heart-healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, and a high score means a low risk of obesity and chronic illnesses including heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Low scores mean people face greater chances for developing those ailments.

The widening rich-poor diet gap is disconcerting and “will have important public health implications,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. Diet-linked chronic diseases such as diabetes have become more common in Americans in general, and especially in the poor, he noted.

“Declining diet quality over time may actually widen the gap between the poor and the rich,” Hu said.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers developed the healthy diet index used for the study. It is similar to federal dietary guidelines but features additional categories including red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol.

The study authors used that index along with government estimates on trans fat intake to evaluate information in 1999-2010 national health surveys that included interviews with people about their eating habits. The results are published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Hu said the widening diet gap reflects an income gap that deepened during the recent financial crisis, which likely made healthy food less affordable for many people. Hu also noted that inexpensive highly processed foods are often widely available in low-income neighborhoods.

The overall diet improvement was largely due to decreased intake of foods containing trans fats but the disappointing results point to a need for policy changes including better nutrition education, Hu said.

In recent years the government and manufacturers have moved to phase out use of artificial trans fats in foods including processed cookies, cakes, frozen pizza and margarines. Trans fats contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels and can increase heart disease risks. These fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to improve texture and shelf life.

The study authors say their results are consistent with an earlier report showing that “nearly the entire U.S. population fell short of meeting federal dietary recommendations.”

The federal guidelines are updated every five years and new ones will be issued next year. The current recommendations emphasize limiting intake of trans fats, sodium, processed foods and added sugars. They don’t specify amounts but encourage diets high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

The Harvard index has a similar emphasis with some specifics; to get a top score would include eating daily more than two cups of vegetables, at least four servings of fruit and at least one ounce of nuts.

A JAMA Internal Medicine editorial says the Harvard diet index isn’t perfect because it puts equal emphasis on various foods that may not contribute equally to health. Still, the study highlights a “growing chasm” that is a public health concern, the editorial says. It suggests that government efforts to close the gap with programs including food stamps may be insufficient and that limiting government benefits to cover only healthful foods might be a better strategy.

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Online:

JAMA Internal Medicine: http://jamainternalmedicine.com

Federal dietary guidelines: http://tinyurl.com/9yjgeoz

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner

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Obamas Attend Longtime Chef Sam Kass’ Wedding To MSNBC Host Alex Wagner

August 31, 2014 AP 0

POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. (AP) — Setting aside for a few hours the pressures of trying to calm the world’s trouble spots, President Barack Obama assumed the role of spectator for something more joyous: the wedding of the first family’s longtime chef and friend.

Chef Sam Kass and MSNBC host Alex Wagner tied the knot Saturday at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, just north of New York City.

The president and his chef have a close relationship, which Obama highlighted earlier this month when he spent several hours at dinner at Kass’ apartment amid the turmoil in Iraq, Ukraine and Ferguson, Missouri.

It’s long been said that time is a president’s most precious commodity. That Obama would spend five hours at Kass’ home on one of the aide’s final evenings as a bachelor was a testament to their bond.

Obama’s rounds of golf are often his only other outings that last as long — and those games sometimes include Kass.

Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, attended the ceremony and reception at the restaurant, which is a favorite of both Kass and Mrs. Obama. The first lady hosted the spouses of world leaders there in 2010.

Obama wore a dark suit, and Mrs. Obama and their daughters each wore sleeveless black dresses. The first family spent about six hours at the wedding. Obama had no known role, other than to give his best to the bride and groom. The Obamas returned to the White House early Sunday.

The union of Kass, 34, and Wagner, 36, also served to highlight what some contend is too much togetherness between the media and the people they report on. Naturally, the guest list was expected to include staff from both the White House and the liberal-leaning cable news outlet, with people from both sides breaking bread at the same dinner table.

Kass began preparing meals for the Obamas when the family lived in Chicago and the Obamas persuaded him to join them at the White House. He is now among the Obamas’ longest-serving aides.

Besides cooking for the family most weeknights, Kass also serves as senior nutrition policy adviser and executive director of the first lady’s anti-childhood obesity initiative.

It’s not unusual for presidents, including Obama, to attend or participate in weddings.

Obama hosted a Rose Garden wedding last October for Pete Souza, the president’s chief official photographer.

In June 2012, Obama, his wife, daughters and mother-in-law attended the Chicago wedding of the daughter of White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

In May 2008, George W. Bush was in office when his daughter, Jenna, married at the family ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Bill Clinton was best man for his brother, Roger, in March 1994.

Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, participated in the August 1984 wedding of their daughter Patti Davis. Reagan spoke one line in the ceremony. He responded “Her mother and I do” when asked who would give away the bride.

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Associated Press news researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this report.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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Maryland State Senator Must Drop Hershey Bar-Like Signs

July 22, 2014 AP 0

BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal judge says a political candidate whose last name is Hershey must stop using campaign materials that mimic the look of the famous chocolate bar.

The judge ruled Thursday that Maryland state Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr. must stop using his dark brown signs with white lettering. The company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in June.

Hershey argued his signs, with a background of the Maryland flag in brown, are different enough to be permissible.

Judge William Quarles disagreed and issued a preliminary injunction, suggesting the company is likely to win its lawsuit.

Hershey said in a statement that he will comply with the injunction. His office has said Hershey has been told his family tree intersects with that of company founder Milton S. Hershey, but they aren’t close relatives.