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Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes

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Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes 1

By Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) – Packaged food giants including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Kellogg are pushing sales of their products to consumers directly via their own online channels, in a quest to gather more data about shoppers’ purchasing habits.

Velveeta-cheese maker Kraft Heinz saw its e-commerce sales double in 2020, now representing more than 5% of its global sales, Chief Executive Miguel Patricio said at the virtual Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference this week.

The company sells Heinz baked beans and tomato soup by subscription or in bundles directly to consumers on a “Heinz To Home” website in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.

Sales on the site are “giving us valuable insights into consumer behavior, enabling us to quickly test and learn from innovations,” Kraft’s head of international business, Rafael de Oliveira, said at the conference.

Kraft would continue to use the site as a channel to generate strong sales in developed markets, he said.

The company also counts sales of its products through marketplaces such as on Amazon.com and Walmart.com as part of its e-commerce sales.

U.S. shoppers spent on average $1,271 buying groceries online last year, 45% more than they did in 2019 as the pandemic spurred shopping online, according to market research firm Earnest Research. In contrast, the average dollars spent in stores rose only about 7% to $3,849.

PepsiCo sells products including Doritos, Quaker oats and Gatorade directly to consumers through two websites, pantryshop.com and snacks.com, both launched in 2020.

Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said that more than 45% of the company’s capital investments over the next few years would be dedicated toward manufacturing capacity, automation, and a “ramping up of investments in our e-commerce channel.”

As major online retailers including Amazon.com and Walmart.com continue to gather valuable data on shoppers, many packaged food manufacturers are keen to gather their own data on shoppers, too.

“COVID (has) simply accelerated our digital growth and has provided us with yet another source of data and insight,” Monica McGurk, chief growth officer at breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co., told the conference.

Kellogg, producer of Corn Flakes as well as Pringles chips, said on Wednesday it had launched a direct-to-consumer website focused on digestive wellness. The group plans to sell its new Mwell Microbiome Powder for gut health via the site to gather data on customer interest before it launches the product more widely.

E-commerce sales have doubled in the past year and now represent about 8.5% of the group’s $13.77 billion in annual sales, Kellogg said.

Pillsbury dough-maker General Mills also sees the benefits of tracking consumer habits more closely.

“We’re aggressively investing in data and analytics. We are gathering unparalleled insights from the first-party data we collect through our brand websites,” General Mills’ Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said at the conference.

On its Bettycrocker.com website, General Mills provides hundreds of recipes using Betty Crocker cake mixes and frosting. The site leads people to the closest store or an online retailer where they can purchase the products, thereby generating data for General Mills on what a particular customer from a certain zip code is buying. The company does not sell the food products directly on its website.

Consumers, however, may have to shell out more if they shop directly from brand websites.

Prices on the two PepsiCo sites, for example, were generally higher than those on Walmart.com or Amazon.com, Reuters checks show. On Walmart.com, for example, a 10 oz pack of Doritos Nacho Cheese was on sale for $2.50 compared to $4.29 on Pepsico’s website.

Kraft Heinz offers tins of soup, beans, pasta and baby food bundled into packs ranging from six to 25 items and costing between 10 and 20 pounds ($14.01-$28.03) on its UK website. It told Reuters the relatively higher prices of items and bundling of packs than on some other online marketplaces was to be able to eke out a margin after including delivery costs.

“Longer term, we see real value in this channel to be an insight and data channel for us,” Jean-Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce for Kraft Heinz’s business in the UK and Ireland, told Reuters. People are more prepared to order directly from manufacturers than they were before. The time is now.”

Graphic: Direct online sales to cross $20 billion in 2021 – https://graphics.reuters.com/PACKAGEDFOODS-ECOMMERCE/rlgpdexngvo/chart.png

($1 = 0.7137 pounds)

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Susan Fenton)

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ExxonMobil to sell some UK, North Sea assets to HitecVision for over $1 billion

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ExxonMobil to sell some UK, North Sea assets to HitecVision for over $1 billion 2

(Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp said on Wednesday it would sell its non-operating interest in its UK and North Sea exploration and production assets to private-equity fund HitecVision for more than $1 billion.

Exxon has been looking to sell its oil and gas assets since late 2019, seeking to free up cash to focus on a handful of mega-projects.

The deal includes ownership interests in 14 producing fields operated primarily by Shell as well as interests in the associated infrastructure. Exxon could also receive about $300 million in contingent payments based on a potential for increase in commodity prices.

Exxon’s share of production from these fields was about 38,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2019, the company said.

Exxon said it would retain its non-operated share in upstream assets in the southern part of the North Sea as well as its interest in the Shell Esso gas and liquids (SEGAL) infrastructure, which supplies ethane to the company’s Fife ethylene plant.

HitecVision, in partnership with Eni, had bought Exxon’s Norwegian North Sea assets for $4.5 billion in 2019.

Initially, Exxon hoped to raise more than $2 billion from the sale, which was planned for late 2019. In June 2020 sources told Reuters that the portfolio was more likely to fetch $1 to $1.5 billion given the oil price weakness last year.

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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JPMorgan’s blockchain payments test is literally out of this world

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JPMorgan's blockchain payments test is literally out of this world 3

By Anna Irrera

LONDON (Reuters) – Stuck in space with bills to pay? Don’t worry, the satellites could take care of it.

JPMorgan Chase & Co has recently tested blockchain payments between satellites orbiting the earth, executives at the bank told Reuters, showing that digital devices could use the technology behind virtual currencies for transactions.

The so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where devices connect to one another, is most associated with consumer electronics, including smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and banks want to be ready to process payments when these smart devices start doing transactions autonomously.Umar Farooq, the CEO of JPMorgan’s blockchain business Onyx, thought space was a cool place to try it out.

“The idea was to explore IoT payments in a fully decentralised way,” Farooq said. “Nowhere is more decentralised and detached from earth than space.”

“Secondly we are nerdy and it was a much more fun way to test IoT,” he said.

To run the space experiment, the bank’s blockchain team did not send its own satellites into space, but worked with Danish company GOMspace, which allows third parties to run software on its satellites.

Farooq said the satellite test showed blockchain networks could power transactions between every day objects.

The test also showed it could be possible to create a marketplace where satellites send each other data in exchange for payments, as more private companies launch their own devices into space, Tyrone Lobban, head of blockchain launch, at Onyx said.

Back on earth, examples of IoT payments that could become a reality sooner include a smart fridge ordering and paying for milk on an ecommerce site, or a self-driving car paying for gas Farooq said.

Blockchain, which first emerged as the software underpinning cryptocurrencies, is a shared digital ledger of transactions. Financial companies have invested millions of dollars to find uses for the technology hoping it can reduce costs and simplify more complex IT processes, such as securities settlement or international payments.

But so far, blockchain has yet to have widespread impact in financial services.

JPMorgan has been one of the most active banks in blockchain, announcing it had created its own distributed ledger called Quorum in 2016, which was sold to blockchain company Consensys last year. The bank also developed a digital coin called JPM Coin and in 2020 created Onyx.

Onyx has more than 100 employees and its blockchain applications are close to generating revenues for the bank, it said.

Among the division’s applications is Liink, a payments information network involving more than 400 banks, a project to replace paper checks and IoT experiments, Farooq said.

(Reporting by Anna Irrera. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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Garment workers in Thailand receive full compensation after wages expose

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Garment workers in Thailand receive full compensation after wages expose 4

By Nanchanok Wongsamuth

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Garment workers in Thailand who were illegally underpaid while making products for major brands have received all the wages owed to them after theme park operator and film producer Universal Studios agreed to pay the outstanding amount.

Universal Studios, owned by media giant Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, agreed to give $20,000 to a group of Myanmar workers on Wednesday – following three other global brands in making payments to settle the 3.5 million baht ($116,550) owed in unpaid wages.

“We take this matter very seriously and this is not in line with our core values,” a NBCUniversal spokeswoman said.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in September 2019 found dozens of migrants from Myanmar working at several factories in the western region of Mae Sot were paid less than the daily minimum wage of 310 Thai baht ($10.32).

A group of 26 workers at one of the factories raided in 2019 by officials sued the owner – Kanlayanee Ruengrit – in August last year for failing to pay the 3.5 million baht owed to them.

Interviews with workers by local and global rights groups found that her factory was making goods for several major brands from Universal Studios to Britain’s largest supermarket Tesco.

The workers later received a payment of about 2.88 million baht from Kanlayanee and three brands that said Kanlayanee’s factory had been subcontracted by their suppliers or partners without permission – Disney, Starbucks and Tesco.

The money from Universal Studios will be paid to MAP Foundation, which has supported the workers and been in discussion with the companies, and will distribute the funds directly to the workers.

“Since the former licensee has failed to respond to multiple requests to pay the affected Thai factory workers, we are making a goodwill donation to MAP Foundation … to distribute funds directly to the workers,” the NBCUniversal spokeswoman said.

Suchart Trakoonhutip, a coordinator at MAP Foundation, said the payment marked the first time that underpaid workers in Mae Sot had received the full amount owed to them in a wage dispute.

The Mae Sot case sets an example for other brands to follow in terms of taking responsibility, but workers should not have to rely on the goodwill of companies in order to receive money they have earned, said Ilona Kelly, a coordinator at pressure group Clean Clothes Campaign.

“The industry urgently needs binding agreements to hold brands to account, the lack of which has become even more notable during COVID-19 as millions of workers are now owed wages and severance pay,” she added.

“Without (government) legislation, the happy ending of the Kanlayanee story will continue to be as unobtainable as a fairytale ending for most workers.”

One of the Kanlayanee workers, who now works part-time on a farm, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that he plans to send the additional money to his sick father in Myanmar.

“I feel happy and proud that I will soon receive the full amount of money I am owed,” said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

($1 = 30.0300 baht)

(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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