NEWS WATCH: KROGER TO CLOSE BAKERSFIELD RALPHS STORES...ALBERTSONS WAGE SUIT RULED CLASS ACTION...PUBLIX PLANS TO ROLL OUT HISPANIC STORE BRAND

KROGER TO CLOSE BAKERSFIELD RALPHS STORESe, a division of Cincinnati-based Kroger, said last week it will close its three stores in Bakersfield, Calif., effective March 6, because they are unprofitable. Chain officials said the closures have nothing to do with last year's 141-day strike-lockout in Southern California, noting the three stores have "a lengthy track record of unprofitability." The company

KROGER TO CLOSE BAKERSFIELD RALPHS STORES

e, a division of Cincinnati-based Kroger, said last week it will close its three stores in Bakersfield, Calif., effective March 6, because they are unprofitable. Chain officials said the closures have nothing to do with last year's 141-day strike-lockout in Southern California, noting the three stores have "a lengthy track record of unprofitability." The company said it's in discussions to sell the three stores to other operators. Bakersfield is located about 110 miles north of Los Angeles. Ralphs began closing underperforming stores in mid-2003, approximately four months after the labor dispute ended, including 14 locations in the Los Angeles area in June; three more in the area in September; and units in Fresno and Clovis, in central California, in October.

ALBERTSONS WAGE SUIT RULED CLASS ACTION

LOS ANGELES -- A district court judge here granted class-action status last week to a lawsuit alleging Albertsons failed to pay final wages and vacation pay on a timely basis, as required under California labor law. The class could involve as many as 118,000 former employees. The suit was filed in 2000 by 10 former workers on behalf of California employees of Albertsons and of Lucky Stores and Sav-on Drugs, two chains Albertsons acquired as part of its 1999 purchase of American Stores. The employees, all former members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 324 in Buena Park, Calif., said they were paid anywhere from 96 hours to a month after their last day of work. Four claim they were not paid for vested vacation time. At the time the suit was filed, Albertsons officials said the chain believed it did not have any merit and intended to defend itself vigorously.

PUBLIX PLANS TO ROLL OUT HISPANIC STORE BRAND

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Publix Super Markets here is joining a growing number of retailers that are venturing into ethnic store brands, with plans to introduce a line of prepared Hispanic private-label products. Publix last week said the products, which will include canned beans, mojo marinade, and frozen yucca and plantains, will roll out in the first quarter and be available at all its stores. The products will be priced 10% to 30% below comparative national brands like Goya and bear the same private-label name as Publix's existing store-brand products, a spokeswoman said.

AHOLD SELLS BRAZIL CHAIN TO ACON AFFILIATE

ZAANDAM, Netherlands -- Ahold here said it has sold the Brazil-based retail chain G. Barbosa to an affiliate of U.S.-based ACON Investments. A purchase price was not announced. Barbosa operates 32 supermarkets and hypermarkets with a strong position in northeastern Brazil. Ahold said it would use the proceeds to reduce its debt. ACON, based in Washington, is an investment firm with other retail holdings in Brazil.

SUPERMARKET CHAINS SUED OVER CHILDREN'S MOTRIN

LOS ANGELES -- A lawsuit has been filed here on behalf of a 7-year-old girl alleging that an allergic reaction not on the label of Children's Motrin was responsible for her blindness. The suit named Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of the product and a subsidiary of McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals, Fort Washington, Pa., as well as the Ralphs Grocery division of Kroger, Cincinnati, the Sav-on Drug Stores division of Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, and distributors McKesson Corp., San Francisco, and Cardinal Health, Dublin, Ohio. According to a statement issued by the law firm Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler, Santa Monica, Calif., Sabrina Brierton Johnson suffered from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome from taking Children's Motrin that caused blindness and photosensitivity. The lawsuit alleges that Johnson & Johnson knew of this risk from clinical trials and failed to warn the public about it.