BROWN-FORMAN is still “very committed” to its Finlandia vodka unit, despite struggling sales in major Russian and eastern European markets, according to Marshall Farrer, head of the distiller’s global travel retail business and a company director. Farrer’s remarks, at the annual TFWA World Exhibition & Conference now under way in Cannes, followed industry speculation earlier this year that Brown-Forman had placed Finlandia on the auction block (Spirits Business).
KINDRED said it completed its previously announced agreement to sell 12 long-term acute care hospitals in six states for $27.5 million to Curahealth, an affiliate of the private investment fund Nautic Partners. The hospitals have a total of 783 licensed beds in Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee (press release). The Louisville-based hospital and nursing giant employs about 2,200 workers in the city, including at the Fourth and Broadway headquarters downtown. It has more than 100,000 workers nationwide.
UPS‘s 2,500 pilots have overwhelmingly ratified a five-year labor contract with a bonus up to $60,000 per pilot, an immediate increase in base pay, and “more favorable” rest policies for overnight and international flights. The contract, which starts tomorrow, includes an immediate 14.7% pay hike, followed by annual increases of 3% over the life of the deal, the pilots association said today (WDRB). The shipper is Louisville’s single-biggest private employer, with 22,000 workers at its Louisville International Airport hub; more about UPS here.
BROWN-FORMAN said fiscal first-quarter revenue fell 5% to $856 million and earnings dropped 2% to 36 cents per share, citing weaker-than-expected results in emerging markets and a stronger U.S. dollar. The results were in line with analysts forecasts. The spirits giant also cited tough comparisons from a year ago on its flagship Jack Daniel’s, which lapped last year’s introduction of cinnamon-flavored Tennessee Fire in the U.S. Sales of Finlandia — the vodka brand rumored to be on the auction block — dropped 10% reported as results in Poland “stabilized somewhat” while they remained under pressure in Russia, given the “challenging economic backdrop” and ruble depreciation (press release). Brown-Forman has now filed its more detailed quarterly 10-Q report with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both classes of the company’s stock fell more than 4% in the first 45 minutes of trading before recovering. The more actively traded non-voting B shares ended the day at $48.55, down $1.78, or 3.5%.
PIZZA HUT: The manager of a Pizza Hut outlet in Tokyo’s Koto Ward and three accomplices were arrested for allegedly beating the store’s deputy manager with a lead pipe and stealing 1.4 million yen (U.S. $13,500) from a safe on May 1. The victim suffered serious injuries including a fractured left arm which required more than two months to heal, police said (Tokyo Reporter).
TACO BELL and KFC: In Houston, police are investigating a smash-and-grab attempted burglary after someone crashed a vehicle into a combination Taco Bell-KFC restaurant on the city’s northeast side early today. The front doors and some of the interior were damaged, but it didn’t appear anything of value was taken (KHOU).
And in Pittsfield, Mass., the appropriately named Happy Valley Compassion Center is proposing to open a medical marijuana dispensary in a former KFC restaurant building. Side note: It occurs to Boulevard that opening a KFC or any other fast-food outlet next to a marijuana store would be an excellent way to sell to customers with the munchies (Berkshire Eagle).
A news summary, focused on big employers; updated 4:51 p.m.
BROWN-FORMAN: Amid recent speculation the company is considering selling Finlandia, CEO Paul Varga threw tepid support behind the vodka brand during the fiscal fourth-quarter conference call with Wall Street analysts yesterday; he was responding to an analyst’s question about Finlandia’s being a “drag” on growth.
“Finlandia has been very important to particularly Jack Daniel’s development in Eastern Europe over the last decade,” Varga said, according to Seeking Alpha’s transcript. “It’s just a very difficult time for the vodka segments in those Eastern European countries right now, and we’ve seen this before with categories where they go through some rough times. . . . Right now, we continue to work Finlandia” (Seeking Alpha).
PIZZA HUT: Yum CEO Greg Creed, conceding in especially frank language that Domino’s has greater U.S. revenue momentum, says improving ordering technology is critical. “We have to get our technology in shape in order to be as easy to order, pay, and track [as possible],” he told an investor conference Wednesday, “and I think as we build the brand and we get that in shape, we’ll actually build more units and that will give us greater physical access.” Pizza Hut has 8,100 U.S. locations, including its Express format vs. more than 5,200 for Domino’s (The Street).
Technology is key to luring millenials and other young customers. Domino’s newest technology shows the challenge. The company’s biggest franchiser in Australia yesterday said it will start using satellites next week to follow customers as they approach stores to pick up already-placed orders, allowing the company to wait until the last moment to start cooking so orders stay fresh. The fast-food surveillance measure, which starts Monday, comes a decade after Domino’s started letting customers track their own orders. The newest service works with customers who place orders with their GPS-equipped smartphones, and opt in to be tracked. They can specify whether they’re coming on foot, on bike, or by car (Bloomberg). Other recent Domino’s innovations include the capabilities to order food via emoji, smartwatch, or a “zero-click” mobile app (Eater).
PAPA JOHN’S CEO John Schnatter promised neighbors in tony Anchorage he would limit his personal helicopter use to six or fewer times a week, and only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.; they had complained about the noise it created (Insider Louisville).
In other news, U.S. stocks accelerated their decline an hour before markets closed, as Wall Street looked ahead to a Federal Reserve meeting, and the U.K.’s so-called Brexit vote due later this month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and other major indices were all down about 1% (Google Finance).
Oscar-winner and Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence will portray Elizabeth Holmes, the 32-year-old disgraced founder of the controversial blood-testing startup Theranos; the new film is still in development. Lawrence, 25, played an entrepreneur last year in Joy, about the inventor of a kitchen mop (Hollywood Reporter). Louisville filmmaker Matthew Fulks has sued singer Beyoncé, claiming a trailer for the Grammy winner’s new Lemonade movie copied elements of his 2014 short film Palinoia (Spin and Vulture).
A news summary focused on big employers; updated 11:28 a.m.
BROWN-FORMAN is reportedly considering a sale of Finlandia vodka amid a broader effort to focus on its whiskey business; the company spent $200 million to assemble the vodka business from 2000 to 2004. Brown-Forman declined to comment on the report (Bloomberg). Last month, the company said it would spend $413 million to buy Scottish single-malt distiller BenRiach Distillery Co.
FORD said 6,506 people applied worldwide to buy the new EcoBoost-powered, carbon-fiber GT supercar; hundreds included videos to bolster their chances to buy the first 500. The $400,000 car will be available the end of the year (press release). Also, total vehicle sales in Ford’s 20 traditional European markets last month were the best since April 2009, with passenger car sales at their highest level since 2010 (press release).
KFC: A barrel of Montana oil fell so low this winter, it was cheaper than a big bucket of KFC: $22.16 for the oil vs. $24.99 for a 16-piece meal (Billings Gazette).
HUMANA: Aetna has spent at least $119 million for lawyers, investment advisors and other services in connection with its planned $37-billion purchase of Humana (Modern Healthcare).
GE: Negotiators for GE Appliances and a local union are trying to improve warehouse efficiency to prevent 217 jobs from being outsourced (Insider Louisville).
In other news, Al J. Schneider heirs have settled a feud that would allow for the sale of the Galt House and the late real estate moguls other holdings (Courier-Journal). The Bernard A. Dahlem family has donated $500,000 to the Catholic Education Foundation so more students can attend Archdiocese of Louisville schools (Courier-Journal). The new owners plan to demolish a Highlands house possibly dating to the 1830s to make way for a new, custom-built home; they paid $605,000 for the property last fall (Courier-Journal).
News about business and culture in Louisville, Ky.