business news in context, analysis with attitude

…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• The Wall Street Journal reports that a ruling by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has gotten a final sign-off, making it once again possible to sell coffee in California without a cancer warning.

According to the story, “The safety of coffee has been in dispute in California since a state court judge ruled last spring that coffee must carry a cancer warning because of the presence of acrylamide, a potentially carcinogenic chemical created during the roasting process.

“A branch of the World Health Organization came out with a conflicting decision in June 2018, finding inadequate evidence that drinking coffee causes cancer, based on a review of more than 1,000 studies. Soon afterward, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released its own finding that coffee doesn’t pose a significant cancer risk, proposing an exemption from a warning under a state law known as Proposition 65.”

The new rule goes into effect on October 1.

• The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that there is a problem as a number of fast food chains rush to add meatless burgers to their menus - there may not be enough of them to go around.

The growth of the category is undeniable: The Journal writes that “imitation meats made by Beyond Meat Inc. and Impossible Foods Inc. are on sale at nearly 20,000 restaurants across the U.S., according to those companies. Fifteen percent of U.S. restaurants offered meatless burgers in March, according to a Technomic Inc. study of menus from 6,000 operators, with the number serving them up 3% from a year earlier.” And fast food chains hope that “these higher-priced alternatives will help them capture additional traffic and dollars.”

But, this “rapid growth in demand is straining the ability of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to meet it,” in part because “the production process remains relatively expensive despite requiring a fraction of the crops, water and energy needed to raise livestock.”

CNBC reports this morning that women’s clothing retailer Forever 21 “is exploring restructuring options to shore up its liquidity as the fast-fashion giant struggles with its business … The company is in talks with private equity firm Apollo Global Management about raising debtor-in-possession funds to provide financing should it file for bankruptcy.”

The CNBC report makes clear that this is a familiar story: “The talks come as the apparel industry continues to struggle amid sweeping changes, including the shift of more purchases online. Many of the most troubled retailers, like Forever 21, are located in malls, where fewer shoppers are spending their money. As sales decline, the companies are still weighed down by large, expensive store bases even as the retailers need to invest in technology to fend off competition from new brands born online, like Lulus.”

• The Wall Street Journal reports that “hedge fund owner Edward Lampert has reached a roughly $21 million deal that would bring Sears Hometown stores under the same corporate umbrella as Sears and Kmart.

“Transform Holdco LLC, which owns Sears and Kmart … is buying the 42% of Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores Inc. that Mr. Lampert’s hedge fund and affiliates don’t currently own for $2.25 a share in cash, the companies said Monday.

“Sears Hometown stores were spun off from Sears Holdings about seven years ago.
Transform’s majority owners are ESL Investments Inc.—Mr. Lampert’s hedge fund—and its affiliates. A judge earlier this year approved a plan for Sears Holdings, the former owner of Sears and Kmart stores that applied for bankruptcy last year, to sell assets to Mr. Lampert’s new company.”

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.

Lampert’s company, which is spending this money, is the same one trying to weasel out of severance pay commitments that it had made to former Sears employees. Maybe it is just me, but I think the money would be better spent on people who earned it than on more stores that Lampert inevitably will screw up.
KC's View: