Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Ag committee chair says new faces mean new dynamic on Capitol Hill

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They are new, enthusiastic and changing the environment on Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says “do not underestimate the effect” of the large number of freshmen lawmakers on his committee, which will sit down to overhaul U.S. farm subsidies next year. USA/

“This session of Congress is a little different from the ones I’ve participated in previously. A huge number of new members,” Lucas said at a Reuters Global Food and Agriculture Summit. “I’ve got a very enthusiastic bunch of new faces.”

It turns out that half of the House Agriculture Committee is new — 16 of 26 Republicans and 7 of 20 Democrats.

“Now, granted, freshmen Democrats are hard to come by,” he said, not missing a beat in taking a swipe at Democrats who were pounded in the November elections and lost control of the House of Representatives to Republicans.

That’s rich. I meant the wine.

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Jeffrey Rubin

What do gold and wine have in common?

Price.

Well, too high of a high price, according to Jeffrey Rubin, director of research at Birinyi Associates, the stock market research and money management firm.

Rubin told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit on Tuesday that he thought gold prices were “certainly a little frothy” at current levels and that he would rather be a buyer of the gold miners such as Newmont Mining Corp, Barrick Gold Corp, or Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. Gold hit an all-time high  above $1,250 an ounce on Tuesday as investors piled in due to fears that European credit contagion could lead to a double-dip recession.

Will growth in the food industry spur inflation?

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Food and agriculture companies, having weathered the global economic meltdown, are now facing the prospects that renewed growth will spur renewed inflation.
With costs poised to rise for commodities like wheat and already high for items like sugar and cocoa, packaged foods makers face the task of trying to preserve profits at a time while retailers and consumers are balking at price increases.
Trade battles over U.S. meat and regulatory issues like a tax on soft drinks and push for more accurate disclosure of calories and fat on restaurant boards and food package are also concerns for the industry.

Video – Beef’s double whammy

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The American beef industry is facing a double whammy of rising input costs as well as a decline in consumer demand as the economic downturn worsens.

 

Ruben Ramirez reports from Goodhue, Minnesota. SOUNDBITES: Lowell Schafer, Cattle Farmer Brian Buhr, Head, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota MORE INFO: Roller coaster feed costs coupled with a decline in global demand for prime cuts of beef are having an unprecedented impact on the American farmer. The million dollar question is, when will consumers once again start saying “Where’s the beef?” 

Video – Recession resistant foods shine

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Hormel, like the rest of the packaged foods industry, is seeing a boon as cash-strapped consumers try to save money by eating at home.

As the economic downturn hits consumer pocketbooks around the globe, the packaged foods industry is seeing a surge in demand as consumers try to save money by skipping restaurants and eating at home. Ruben Ramirez reports from Austin, Minnesota.

Audio – Mexican retailer Soriana focuses on debt

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soriana.jpgAfter closing one of the biggest deals in the Mexican retail market in a decade by acquiring more than 200 stores from rival Gigante, Soriana plans to focus on keeping a tidy mid-term debt profile.
The Gigante transaction, which helped strengthen Soriana’s position against leader Wal-Mart de Mexico, will slow down the retailer’s organic growth for the next two years but the company hopes store openings will gather speed again in 2010.
Listen to Chief Financial Officer Aurelio Adan speak at the Reuters Latin America Investment Summit about how the company will handle debt in the next five years and the reasons why he thinks Soriana stock is undervalued.

Audio – Tough ride ahead for Mexico’s biggest retailer

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walmex.jpgWalmex, the Mexican arm of U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is set for another tough year amid an economic slowdown that is making it more difficult for customers to buy anything from food to clothing.
In 2007, retailers were hurt by a downturn in the Mexican and U.S. economies. However, Walmex hopes that its first-quarter results will be decent. 
Listen to the company’s Chief Executive Eduardo Solorzano talk about the challenges ahead during Reuters Latin America Investment Summit. 

Audio – Grillin’ Sara Lee on tortillas

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fraleigh.jpgSara Lee Corp is looking to new types of bread to expand and deepen its reach across parts of the United States.

Speaking at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago, CJ Fraleigh, COO of the company’s North American business, said tortillas were one thing it is working on.

Audio – The Whole, Wide World!

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powell1.jpgGeneral Mills says it doesn’t always think of itself as a big company — but one look at its fancy company brochure and you remember just how many products they manufacture.

General Mills, of course, makes cereals like Cheerios, Wheaties and Trix (yes, yes — Silly Rabbit!). But the company also makes such yummy treats as Pillsbury baked products, Chex, Bisquik pancake mixes, Hamburger Helper (I loved this in college … OK, I still love it) and Haagen-Dazs ice creams (Ohhhhh yeah….).

Audio – P.F. Chang’s faces economic pressures; and a visit from the Queen of Temperance!

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federico1.jpgDifferent companies are using different methods to deal with the withering U.S. economy and still draw in customers.

Richard Federico, chief executive of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, said his restaurant company is trying to implement a mix of all available lures to keep crowds coming to its Bistros and Pei Wei Asian Diner concepts.

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