NEWSWATCH

THE FOOD MARKETING INSTITUTE,led a "radical new format" and changed dates for its MealSolutions Show. Now called MealSolutions: Forum '99, the event will be an education-based conference to be held Oct. 4 and 5 in downtown Kansas City. That relocates this year's MealSolutions event, initially planned for St. Louis in September. Educational workshops will be presented in a town-meeting style, and will

THE FOOD MARKETING INSTITUTE,

led a "radical new format" and changed dates for its MealSolutions Show. Now called MealSolutions: Forum '99, the event will be an education-based conference to be held Oct. 4 and 5 in downtown Kansas City. That relocates this year's MealSolutions event, initially planned for St. Louis in September. Educational workshops will be presented in a town-meeting style, and will address key retailer concerns. The FMI is also redefining the target audience for the event by encouraging attendance by executive who lead teams involved in meal solutions strategies and execution.

THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION made good on a threat to require importers of European gourmet items ranging from cookies to Pecorino cheese to post a bond equaling 100% of the value of these goods. Asserting the United States is acting to protect its trading rights and the world trading order, the administration cited a 1993 World Trade Organization ruling that the Europeans are illegally favoring the importation of bananas from former colonies in the Americas and Africa. The policy will affect about $500 million worth of European goods. Retail and import industry officials in Washington immediately assailed the U.S. action.

KMART CORP., Troy, Mich., said last week it is still interested in joining forces with a supermarket chain. "We continue to believe that consolidation in the food industry might present opportunities to partner with someone in the grocery business," a spokesman told SN last week. The company also said it will convert the remaining 586 Kmart stores to the Big Kmart format -- which includes a wide assortment of foods -- following last year's conversion of 1,245 units. The company said the successful performance of the Big Kmart stores and strong merchandising performance by key brands helped boost financial results for the year ended Jan. 27, with sales up 4.6% to $33.7 billion, comparable-store sales up 4.8% and net income up 108% to $518 million. For the 13-week fourth quarter, sales rose 6.6% to $10.4 billion and comps rose 4.5%, while net income was up 89.8% to $353 million, the company said.

UNITED GROCERS, Portland, Ore., said last week it hopes to reduce its debt-to-equity ratio to 3-to-1 over the next three years. After reducing debt by $85 million or 43% for the year ended Oct. 2 -- from $198 million -- the company said the ratio is currently at 3.7-to-1. UG said it was able to reduce debt so rapidly by selling off assets -- including Grocers Cash & Carry, Grocers Insurance Co. and Rich & Rhine, a candy and tobacco subsidiary; however, with no more assets left to sell, officials said they expect to reduce debt this year by only about $10 million, using funds generated from operations.