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Published May 29, 2012, 08:21 AM

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Crystal has no plans to budge on offer

By: Agweek wire reports, Agweek

Crystal has no plans to budge on offer

• MOORHEAD, Minn. — With the price of its 10-month-old lockout falling by the day and thousands of workers seeking jobs under the terms rejected by union employees, American Crystal Sugar Co. has no plans — and little incentive — to budge from the contract offer it’s had on the table since last fall. “There is essentially no willingness to bend from that at all,” says David Berg, the company’s president and chief executive, in an interview May 24. “They (growers) want us to sit on the contract.” As the company swaps pricey out-of-state replacement workers with new local and regional hires, it’s a position the company says it can afford to take. It has made 700 such hires to date. Berg says a small number of those are people who have crossed union lines. He also says the response to the company’s posting for those jobs has strengthened its case that the last offer to the union was a fair one. He says 7,000 people applied for the 1,300 jobs vacated by locked-out employees, attracted by the same terms the union voted down overwhelmingly. Joe Talley, Crystal’s vice president of finance, says the more economical hires are taking the financial sting out of the lockout. “There is a financial reason to settle, and it’s getting smaller every day,” he says, adding that the company expects costs to fall to pre-lockout levels within a year. The union says the situation isn’t so rosy. John Riskey, a union spokesman, says many of the new hires — whom Berg praised as strong employees — haven’t panned out, and that the company is hurting for skilled workers in many areas. The company and the union will meet June 8, their first meeting since February. The union has said it will make a new offer at the meeting.

Kraft Foods approves new name

• NEW YORK — Kraft Foods Inc. says shareholders approved the name “Mondelez” for its new global snack food business, which may put to rest the snickering that initially greeted the name. The Northfield, Ill.-based company says the name was approved by more than 90 percent of shareholders who cast a vote. The name — pronounced “mon-dah-LEEZ” — will take effect when the company officially splits into two publicly traded companies later this year. Mondelez International Inc. will be home to global brands including Oreo, Cadbury and Nabisco. The North American grocery business will continue to carry the name Kraft and include Velveeta, Miracle Whip and Oscar Mayer. Kraft on May 23 unveiled the logo for Mondelez, which is the name in a custom-made purple font with red accents on either side. Kraft says the name is an amalgamation of the Latin word for “world” and an interpretation of the word “delicious.” Kraft held an in-house contest to name the new company. The top candidates were vetted with consumers in 28 languages to ensure they didn’t have negative connotations. The colors in Kraft’s current logo have specific names, including “zesty” (greenish yellow), “indulgent” (pink), “sweet” (purple) and “delicious” (red). The company says the red and purple used in the Mondelez logo don’t have any special names.

Another school lunch bill introduced

• WASHINGTON — The notion that Congress could consider pizza a vegetable may just be too much to digest. The SLICE Act, for School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education, has been introduced in response to congressional action last fall ensuring that two tablespoons of tomato paste slathered on pizza could continue to be classified as a full vegetable serving in the federal school lunch program. Congress’ action last fall drew widespread attention. Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, says, “Congress did not declare pizza a vegetable . . . and no one has ever, or will ever, ask that pizza be considered a vegetable.” The food institute opposes Polis’ bill, saying it would “all but remove foods made with tomato paste from school cafeterias, in spite of the significant nutritional value offered by tomato paste.” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, welcomed Polis’ bill. “It sends a good message about the importance of healthy school foods, and that these decisions should be based on what’s best for kids, not what’s best for business.” The issue is expected to come up when the House takes up the annual spending bill for the Department of Agriculture.

Briefly . . .

Milk production: Milk production continues to improve in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where dairy farmers had a stronger April this year than last year. Wisconsin harvested 2.3 billion pounds last month. That’s up 4 percent from the total yield in April 2011. In Minnesota, production totaled 770 million pounds, a 1 percent improvement. The overall dairy yield improved in 22 of the 23 major milk-producing states in the nation. National output was 16 billion pounds, an increase of 3 percent. Wisconsin remains the nation’s second-leading producer, and Minnesota remains in 7th place. California led the way with 3.6 billion pounds of milk.

State mill: The North Dakota Mill and Elevator in Grand Forks, N.D., is planning improvements to its railroad facilities. The mill ships bulk carloads of flour to customers. Mill manager Vance Taylor says the mill is replacing about 600 feet of track and installing about 450 feet of new track. The project will cost about $550,000. He says the work is necessary to prevent derailments. The added track will allow the state-owned mill to store eight additional rail cars. Taylor says it will save on car storage charges and improve the loading and cleaning of rail cars used to ship flour.

Food stamps: The government is trying to crack down on food stamp recipients who are ripping off taxpayers by illegally selling their benefit cards for cash. The Agriculture Department wants to curb the practice by giving states more power to investigate people who repeatedly claim to lose their benefit cards and then ask for replacements. It proposed new rules May 24 that would allow states to demand formal explanations from people who seek replacement cards more than three times a year. Those who don’t comply can be denied further cards. USDA officials say they are even getting complaints of people using websites such as eBay and Craigslist to buy and sell food stamps.