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News Briefs for October 14, 2011

October 14, 2011

•The recently signed U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement has the potential to open up a new key emerging market to U.S. winemakers, according to the Wine Institute. The deal immediately removes the 15% tariff on U.S. wines imported to South Korea, and repeals the 45% tariff on grape juice concentrate. The tariff removal will also reduce the amount of excise, VAT and other taxes that ultimately hit U.S. wines in the South Korean market. U.S. wine exports to South Korea, of which 90% are from California, were more than 500,000 cases valued at $11.2 million in revenues to wineries in 2010. Chile (which secured free trade with South Korea in 2005) and more recently the E.U. (whose own agreement with the country kicked in this past July), have held an advantage. South Korea’s wine imports have nearly tripled over the past decade, and the market’s well-developed distribution relative to other emerging markets only makes it more attractive.

•Proximo’s Hangar One vodka is rolling out a Maine Wild Blueberry extension in the U.S. this fall. Priced around $29.99 a 750-ml., Maine Wild Blueberry is described as a small-batch vodka made with natural juices and wild blueberries, which give it a slightly purple hue. The new extension is Hangar One’s fifth offering, joining their Straight Vodka, Mandarin Blossom, Kaffir Lime and Buddha’s Hand Citron extensions. In addition to the core range, Hangar One has previously released a series of seasonal flavors, including Fraser River Raspberry, Spiced Pear and Chipotle vodkas.

•Stolichnaya is launching a luxury-end Elit line extension, the Himalaya Edition, in global travel retail and select international markets this month. Using water sourced from the Himalayas, the limited edition variant will sell for $3,000 a 750-ml. and only 300 bottles will be made available. The bottle is made from hand-blown Bohemian crystal and will feature a gold cap shaped like an ice pick and a gold ring at the base. Each bottle will come in its own leather and wood case. Meanwhile, Stoli’s newest addition to its flavored vodka line, Chocolat Razberi, has gotten off to a strong start, the company reports, with rush shipments hitting the U.S. in the next few days needed to meet demand.

•DineEquity Inc., the parent company of casual dining chains Applebee’s and IHOP Restaurants, has announced that Neighborhood Restaurant Inc. is purchasing 40 franchise-operated Applebee’s restaurants from Apple Restaurants Inc. for an undisclosed sum. An affiliate of IHOP’s largest franchisee, Neighborhood Restaurant Inc. was formed last year by private investment firm Argonne Capital through the acquisition of eight Applebee’s outposts in San Antonio, TX. The current deal adds 40 locations based in Atlanta and the surrounding region to the group’s roster. Applebee’s founder Bill Palmer, meanwhile, has concurrently been named Neighborhood Restaurant’s CEO. The move follows DineEquity’s recent sale of 17 company-owned Applebee’s outposts to Apple Investors Group LLC in an effort to reduce debt. DineEquity is expected to collect $15.9 million in net proceeds from the deal.

•San Francisco restaurant employees want a 25% standard tip rate to be added to every diner’s bill, the Contra Costa Times reports. Currently, the average diner leaves a tip between 15% and 20%, 15% of which restaurant waitstaff must claim to the IRS. While those in the food industry support the move for a 25% standard tip, many restaurant customers believe that tips should be earned and not expected or standardized.

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