Kroger’s proposed purchase of Albertsons for $24.6 billion would create one of the largest food retailers in the country and, based on past experience, is likely to be scrutinized by federal regulators.

Together, the companies operate nearly 5,000 stores and employ more than 700,000 people.

The merger agreement was announced Friday, with the companies saying “the combination creates a premier seamless ecosystem across 48 states and the District of Columbia, providing customers with a best-in-class shopping experience across both stores and digital channels.”

Others didn’t have the same reaction. The Open Markets Institute said a merger “would be disastrous for consumers, workers, independent grocers, and grocery innovation. When these companies say they’ll find efficiencies to lower prices, they really mean that they’ll close stores, lay off workers, and squeeze suppliers to pad pockets for financiers. Meanwhile, consumers will continue to see the price hikes they do today along with an illusion of choice on the shelves.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also blasted the deal and called on the administration to reject it.
And: It’s likely the Federal Trade Commission will examine the deal. When Albertsons and Safeway merged in 2015, the FTC required them to sell 168 stores. When asked what its plans were for the Albertson-Kroger deal, the FTC said it could not comment.
USDA takes tentative step to address salmonella

USDA has taken a new step in its long-running struggle to address salmonella in poultry. On Friday, the Food Safety and Inspection Service released a proposed strategy that agency officials are describing as a discussion draft

The strategy includes a series of steps, starting with required testing of flocks and the possible declaration of salmonella as an adulterant in all raw products. 

What’s next: The agency wants to release a formal proposal in 2023 with the goal of finalizing the new regulations in 2024.

The National Chicken Council says the move is unwarranted, arguing that FSIS doesn’t have the data to back up what it’s proposing. The National Turkey Federation said the strategy “should be the topic of robust debate and discussion among stakeholders.”

But consumer advocates characterized the strategy’s release as a welcome shift in agency thinking. “By replacing current, unenforceable, salmonella standards with mandatory, product-based standards, USDA can finally begin to reduce the share of salmonellosis cases caused by poultry, which currently stands at over 23%,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America. 

Putin and Erdogan discuss Black Sea Grain Initiative

The Black Sea Grain Initiative – the deal that is allowing Ukraine to export wheat and corn out of three Odesa ports – was a topic of discussion when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Thursday, a United Nations spokesman confirmed in a Friday press conference.

Putin, who could torpedo the deal at any time, has been critical of it recently, but the UN spokesman said that Putin and Erdogan noted “positive things about the grain deal.”

Beyond Meat sheds employees, including COO

Beyond Meat is laying off nearly 20% of its workforce, shedding about 200 employees as it pursues “a more sustainable growth model,” the company said Friday.

It also parted ways with Chief Operating Officer Doug Ramsey, accused of biting a man’s nose after a University of Arkansas football game Sept. 17. He had been suspended since Sept. 20.

The layoffs should save the plant-based food company $39 million over the next year. Beyond Meat lowered its revenue projections in August, when it reported a second-quarter loss of $6.2 million.

A strong week for US soy sales to China

Chinese buyers were contracting fast to buy up U.S. soybeans last week, according to reports from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Three daily export sales reports issued Wednesday, Thursday and Friday showed a total of 1.182 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans sold to Chinese buyers for delivery in the 2022-23 marketing year.

That number could have actually been larger because FAS also reported two daily sales totaling 440,000 tons for delivery to “unknown destinations” and those contracts often end up going to China.

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Keep in mind: Recent daily sales aren’t the only evidence showing a strong Chinese appetite for U.S. soybeans. The latest FAS Weekly Export Sales report, released Friday, shows U.S. sales of soybeans to China totaled 662,300 tons for the week of Sept. 30-Oct. 6. Those sales made up almost all of the weekly total of 724,400 tons.

Furthermore, China was by far the largest destination for physical shipments during the seven-day period. The U.S. exported 607,100 tons to China out of total shipments for 888,000 tons.

Northeast lawmakers press dairy company on investment plans

Four Northeastern Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Danone on Friday that called on the dairy company to clarify its plans to help the 89 farmers whose contracts it terminated last year. 

The company promised to "co-invest” in Northeast organic dairy infrastructure after cutting ties with the contract-holders, but all four Representatives — Peter Welch, D-Vt., Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H. — said they have not seen any evidence of the co-investment so far.

“As a B Corp, a corporation that is supposed to use ‘business as a force for good.’ Danone has a responsibility to make good on those promises,” the lawmakers wrote. "Therefore, we request Danone respond to our region’s 89 organic dairy farms with clear and explicit steps for when and how its promised co-investment will be delivered."

He said it: “The number of people affected by hunger has more than doubled in the past 3 years. Together, we must move from despair to hope & action, and make nutritious diets available & affordable for all.” - U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, in a tweeted statement on World Food Day, which was Sunday.

Correction: The webinar on food insecurity mentioned in Friday's Daybreak was sponsored by the Farm Journal Foundation, not the Farm Foundation.

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