NEWS WATCH: UFCW AUTHORIZES KROGER STRIKE IN VIRGINIA... RETAIL MERGERS DECLINED IN 2004, REPORT SAYS... COLORADO UNION TO RESUME TALKS WITH ALBERTSONS...

UFCW AUTHORIZES KROGER STRIKE IN VIRGINIAod and Commercial Workers Local 400 here last week voted to authorize a strike as the union attempts to work out a new contract covering Kroger stores in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee, published reports said. Kroger, Cincinnati, and the union have been negotiating since February and have agreed to indefinitely extend the current contract, which was

UFCW AUTHORIZES KROGER STRIKE IN VIRGINIA

od and Commercial Workers Local 400 here last week voted to authorize a strike as the union attempts to work out a new contract covering Kroger stores in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee, published reports said. Kroger, Cincinnati, and the union have been negotiating since February and have agreed to indefinitely extend the current contract, which was set to expire late last week. The contract covers about 3,500 workers.

RETAIL MERGERS DECLINED IN 2004, REPORT SAYS

ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. -- While overall food-industry merger and acquisition activity remained stable in 2004, supermarket retail mergers declined, according to a report from The Food Institute here. The report noted 20 deals completed in the supermarket sector during 2004 were down from 36 in 2003. The industry had 19 mergers in 2002, and 27 in 2001. The Food Institute, said in a statement. Overall food-industry mergers -- including retailers, agricultural cooperatives, brokers, investment firms, restaurants, wholesalers, packaging concerns and food processors -- totaled 351 in 2004. This does not include 18 deals announced, but not closed on, in 2004. That is down slightly from 368 deals in 2003, The Food Institute said.

COLORADO UNION TO RESUME TALKS WITH ALBERTSONS

DENVER -- Union employees of Albertsons here are scheduled to resume talks with the Boise, Idaho-based supermarket chain today, a spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 told SN. Both Kroger, Cincinnati, and Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., have agreed to new contracts with the union, which represents workers in Colorado and Wyoming. Safeway workers voted 65% in favor of a four-year labor deal with Safeway, the union said late last month. That deal is similar to an agreement with Kroger, which operates City Market and King Soopers stores in the market.

LOBLAW TO SHUTTER SIX WAREHOUSES IN STREAMLINING

TORONTO -- Loblaw Cos. here said last week it planned to close six warehouses in Ontario and Quebec during the next three years as part of a previously disclosed streamlining initiative. The company said the closures, which will affect about 1,400 employees, will create cost savings and a "smoother flow of products to its stores." A spokesman for the company said two of the warehouses were general merchandise facilities, and the other four were full-line grocery distribution centers. Five of the closures are slated to take place by the end of this year. The last is scheduled to close by the fall of 2007. The company currently operates 32 warehouses across Canada.

UFCW CANADA FIGHTING WAL-MART CLOSURE

QUEBEC -- The United Food and Commercial Workers union here has asked the Quebec Labor Board to delay Wal-Mart from closing a store in Jonquierre, Quebec, where workers formed a union. Wal-Mart Canada announced the store, which was granted certification last fall, would close last month due to financial difficulties. In its complaint, the UFCW said that decision violates labor law. It petitioned the board to keep the store open until a hearing can determine the validity of its charge, and for an arbitrator to decide the terms of binding contract arbitration between the parties. Wal-Mart announced the store would close after the labor board agreed to binding arbitration.

Z+CALO MALL SET TO OPEN FIRST LOCATION IN PHOENIX

PHOENIX -- Zocalo Mall, an indoor shopping center that will try to recreate the ambience of a Mexican town, is scheduled to open its first location this summer in a 75,000-square-foot shuttered Albertsons store here. The privately held company is planning three more area locations "because Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities, with a huge Hispanic population," James Morang, a company spokesman, told SN. Expansion is planned for Tucson, Ariz.; Southern California; El Paso, Texas; and Albuquerque, N.M. The "malls" will consist of licensed shops offering goods and services, including produce and seafood offerings, a traditional Mexican bakery and a tortilla factory.