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• Kroger Co. has signed a deal with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) for a new four-year contract covering about 2,000 employees working at 23 stores in the Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia, region.

• The Conference Board said that consumer confidence seems to be improving, with its index rising 4.5 points to 107.2, the highest level since May 2002.

"The improvement in consumers' assessment of present-day conditions is yet another sign that the economy gained steam in early 2006," Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement. "Consumer expectations, while improved, remain subdued and still suggest a cooling in activity in the latter half of this year."

• Wild Oats has changed its rules in such a way that Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. has been able to increase its ownership in the company to 20 percent from 15 percent without triggering a “poison pill” takeover defense.

• In the UK, published reports say that poultry sales are down as much as 20 percent because of avian flu fears, with some consumers saying they only are interested in buying British poultry because the nation has not yet seen a bird flu outbreak.

• Kroger Co. reportedly has filed a lawsuit against three drug manufacturers - Sanofi-Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Apotex – accusing them of entering into an illegal settlement of a patent lawsuit. The settlement was of a dispute over Plavix, the popular blood thinner, which now will not be available in less expensive generic form until 2011, a delay to which Kroger objects.

The Plavix agreement still has to be approved by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
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