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News Briefs for March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014

•Mionetto USA has officially launched its revamped Luxury Collection of sparkling wines, news of which SND first reported March 4. Mionetto’s new Luxury Collection—now available nationwide—includes Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Cuvée Sergio 1887 and Cuvée Sergio 1887 Rosé, all retailing around $19 a bottle. A fourth label, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, will be added this fall at around $40. The company says the “strategic realignment” of these Veneto- and Valdobbiadene-sourced sparklers, which includes a packaging makeover, will “create a stronger, more unified brand identity and heightened shelf-appeal for Mionetto’s élite wines.”

•Des Moines, Iowa-based grocery chain Hy-Vee, which operates 235 stores, is expanding its operations in Minnesota, with several new locations planned for the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. The retailer currently has 17 employee-owned stores in the state, and the new plan will add new outlets over the next several years, each approximately 90,000 square feet at an investment of about $14-$16 million. The stores feature sit-down dining, as well as certified wine, beer and spirit specialists, among other amenities. Hy-Vee has one location under contract in the area, with more projects in various stages of research and development. The move follows other significant retail expansion in the state, including a recent push into the area by Total Wine & More.

•Darden Restaurants has reported a net earnings drop of nearly 20% for its third quarter (ended February 23), from $134.5 million in the same period last year to $109.5 million. Third quarter total sales, meanwhile, dropped 1.1% from $2.26 billion to $2.23 billion, due primarily to an overall 5.6% same-restaurant sales loss across the company’s core Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse brands. Likewise, Darden’s Specialty Restaurant Group—which includes The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Yard House, Eddie V’s and Seasons 52—suffered from sluggish same-restaurant sales, down 0.7% collectively for the quarter. Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, Darden Restaurants currently operates more than 2,100 restaurants and generates over $8.5 billion in annual sales. Under heavy fire from activist investors in recent months, Darden is exploring various options to improve performance, including spinning off the 705-unit Red Lobster chain.

•Burton Notarius, a leading spirits and wine retailer in Western New York for the past four decades, died Friday. He was 70. After buying the original Premier Liquor store in 1969 in Kenmore with his late father, Zellman, and late father-in-law, Bill Drown, Notarius built Premier into one of New York’s biggest independent liquor retailers. Premier Group now has three locations in Western New York. Notarius was named Retailer of the Year in 1993 by Market Watch magazine.

•European Union winemakers are toasting a thaw in trade relations with one of their key markets, China. Last summer, responding to an E.U. duty hike on Chinese-made solar panels, China said it was exploring domestic wine industry claims that Europeans have been unfairly subsidizing exports to China. At the time, European winemakers feared that the dispute could lead to China’s wine tariffs rising from 48% to as much as 70%. Under the agreement reached in recent days, European winemakers will help train winemakers looking to expand China’s domestic production, while China will organize local tastings of European wines. While the new agreement is a welcome development, wine exporters are still feeling the burn of the Chinese government’s austerity drive, which has hurt the luxury wine and spirits market. Bordeaux exports to China fell 18% by value last year, according to the CIVB.

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