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•  From the Associated Press:

"The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits remained relatively elevated last week, potentially another signal that Federal Reserve rate hikes are beginning to cool a surprisingly resilient labor market.

"US applications for jobless claims were 264,000 for the week ending June 17, the same as the previous week’s revised number, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That’s slightly more than analysts were expecting. The claims numbers for the past two weeks are the highest since October of 2021.

"The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out some of the week-to-week volatility, rose by 8,500 to 255,750. That’s the highest level since November of 2021.

"Jobless claims in the past three weeks have pushed closer to 300,000 after mostly being in the high 100,000 to low 200,000 range since the fall of 2021. But that’s likely not enough for Fed officials, who have said in the past that the unemployment rate needs to rise well past 4 percent to bring inflation down.

"Labor analysts are reticent to take the recent rise in benefit applications at face value after fraudulent claims in some states, including Massachusetts, elevated numbers for a few weeks this spring. The fact that continuing claims fell after three weeks of higher applications also raised eyebrows. But if unemployment claims remain at or around 260,000, it could point to a notable cooling of the labor market.

•  From the Washington Post:

"Aspartame, a mainstay of diet beverages for decades, is coming under new scrutiny amid fresh research linking the popular sugar substitute to a possible increased cancer risk.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reviewed the science of aspartame’s safety five times since greenlighting it for consumption in 1981, and more than 90 countries have approved its use. But the World Health Organization recently called two meetings to reevaluate its safety and has signaled that it may issue new warnings about the food additive later this summer.

"The American Beverage Association, which represents leading beverage makers such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and other industry organizations are already pushing back. About 95 percent of carbonated soft drinks that have a sweetener use aspartame, as well as about 90 percent of ready-to-drink teas, representing a huge amount of the beverage market share … The renewed attention comes at a moment when food and drink aisles are filling with products containing artificial sweeteners, responding to consumer interest in reducing added sugar. This push has sparked new interest in the safety of these sweeteners, including aspartame, one of the world’s most-studied food additives."

•  H-E-B announced that it "continues to roll out its H-E-B Fresh Bites brand with the opening of its second location, which is in Lytle and includes a True Texas Tacos restaurant. With H-E-B Fresh Bites, the San Antonio-based retailer is giving a new look to its H-E-B convenience stores and providing customers more options such as fresh produce, chef-inspired prepared meals, and convenient snack options.

"On June 19, H-E-B opened its second Fresh Bites convenience store, which is adjacent to the Lytle H-E-B on McDonald St. The location was an existing convenience store that was updated into an H-E-B Fresh Bites and renovated to include the True Texas Tacos restaurant."

•  Tasting Table reports that "Starbucks recently broke ground on its first-ever drive-thru-only location … Located in Tucson, Arizona, the new store is part of a growth initiative Starbucks announced last year during its annual investor gathering. Located on Tucson's west side, the new drive-thru-only outlet is the first of three new shops that Starbucks has planned for the greater Tucson area, including a second drive-thru-only location in midtown.

"The new focus on drive-thru-only locations, part of a pivot Starbucks calls its 'reinvention,' comes in response to a pattern of changing consumer behavior including the use of app-based ordering and a lingering post-Covid social distancing mindset that continues to fuel an uptick in grab-and-go traffic."

•  The World Coffee Portal reports that "Starbucks has unveiled plans to develop a new ‘sustainability learning and innovation lab’ at its Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm and global agronomy headquarters in Costa Rica. 

"Although it will not open to visitors until 2026, the lab will offer an education programme for select Starbucks employees and Arizona State University (ASU) students studying sustainable food systems, global agribusiness and environmental management before the end of 2023."

•  From the Washington Post:

" will acquire Bed Bath & Beyond’s intellectual property and other digital assets for $21.5 million, in line with its original bid for the bankrupt retailer’s assets, according to court documents filed Thursday.

"The deal — which covers Bed Bath & Beyond’s brand name, business data and digital assets but excludes its brick-and-mortar stores — must still be approved by New Jersey’s bankruptcy court at a hearing on Tuesday. Overstock, based in Midvale, Utah, sells furniture and home decor at discount prices.

"Additionally, two backup bidders were selected for specific brands: JOWA Brands for Bed Bath & Beyond’s Wamsutta brand, and Ten Twenty Four for Buy Buy Baby, an infant-goods retailer owned by Bed Bath & Beyond, will be auctioned separately on June 28."