News Watch

RISHTON: AHOLD ON PRICES IN FISCAL '08 AMSTERDAM Ahold will remain vigilant about the changing economic environment and rising food prices in fiscal 2008, John Rishton, chief executive officer of Ahold, told shareholders in the retailer's annual meeting last week. In the United States, price investments related to the acceleration and further rollout of the value improvement program will continue

RISHTON: AHOLD ‘VIGILANT’ ON PRICES IN FISCAL '08

AMSTERDAM — Ahold will remain “vigilant about the changing economic environment and rising food prices” in fiscal 2008, John Rishton, chief executive officer of Ahold, told shareholders in the retailer's annual meeting last week. “In the United States, price investments related to the acceleration and further rollout of the value improvement program will continue to impact both sales and margins in the first part of the year — with improvements expected later in the year,” he said. Also last week, Ahold said it had sold its 73% stake in retailer Schuitema NV to CVC Capital Partners, but will retain a 20% interest in the group. The 58 stores will be converted to Ahold's Albert Heijn brand.

SHAW'S TO LAY OFF TECHNOLOGY WORKERS: REPORT

WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. — Around 53 workers, primarily software engineers, will be laid off at Shaw's Supermarkets here, reports said. The staff reductions, set to occur between May 31 and June 14, relate to a restructuring of the chain's technology by parent company Supervalu, according to a Shaw's spokeswoman quoted in the Patriot Ledger newspaper in Massachusetts.

JUDGES WEIGH FTC ARGUMENT VS. WHOLE FOODS

WASHINGTON — At least one of the three judges listening to oral arguments here last week about whether a lower court erred in allowing Whole Foods to acquire Wild Oats appeared sympathetic to the Federal Trade Commission's case against the deal, according to reports. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market won its battle with the FTC last year by arguing that its stores and those of Wild Oats Markets compete against a broad spectrum of food retailers rather than primarily against each other. The FTC is now arguing that the U.S. District Court here did not give enough weight to its arguments against the deal, and could still seek to force Whole Foods to sell additional stores. Antitrust attorneys previously have told SN that by taking the unusual step of appealing the case, the FTC may be primarily interested in clarifying antitrust law for future actions.

WEIS UNVEILS $80 MILLION CAP-EX PROGRAM

SUNBURY, Pa. — Weis Markets plans to spend around $80 million in capital over the next 12 months, with three-quarters of the total going toward its store base, officials said last week at the retailer's annual meeting here. The cap-ex program represents an increase of 23% over fiscal 2007, when Weis spent $64.2 million. The company said it has 19 projects in various stages of completion, including three new stores, two replacement units, nine additions and five remodels. Norman Rich, chief executive officer, said disparity between wholesale and retail price inflation contributed to profits that fell below company goals in 2007. “In this current market environment, we are cautious about passing on price increases to our customers,” he said in a statement. Weis previously reported 2007 earnings of $51 million — a decline of 9% — on sales of $2.3 billion.

NYC UNION LAUNCHES SUPERMARKET ADVOCACY EFFORT

NEW YORK — United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 in Queens Village last week applauded a recent study by the city's planning commission showing detrimental public health and economic effects of a lack of supermarkets in certain city neighborhoods and unveiled a 14-point statement of policy suggestions designed to assist communities in gaining greater access to food stores. The policy suggestions encourage the preservation and development of supermarkets in low-income communities by making economic incentives available to food retailers to build and operate stores, and to discourage evictions of supermarkets.