Cash-strapped US grocer Kmart said it is to close 326 stores and a distribution centre and slash about 37,000 jobs in a bid to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of April ­ earlier than expected. 

Kmart said it expected the move to improve cashflow by about $500m in 2003 and would leave Kmart with about 1,500 stores. 

The closures, across 44 states, will result in a charge of $1.7bn and follows the 284 stores Kmart shut with the loss of 22,000 jobs in January 2002 when it filed for Chapter 11 protection. Kmart said like-for-like sales in December fell 5.7%, an improvement on November's fall of 17.2%. 

Sales slip 

Group sales at Carrefour fell 1.6% in 2002 as negative currency rates wiped 37% off sales at its operations in the Americas. 

Including the impact of currencies, sales for 2002 were 176.8bn euros down from 178bn in the previous year. 

Carrefour said at constant exchange rates, sales rose 4.5%. Sales in France rose 1.8% and were up 6.9% in the rest of Europe. Asian sales increased 1.8%. 

US gloom 

US grocery supplier Fleming has cut its fourth-quarter earnings outlook blaming soft sales, inflated meat prices and higher employee related costs. 

The group also said it will take a charge of about $116m for discontinued operations related to the pending sale of its retail operations. Fleming now expects to post like-for-like earnings between about $5m to $6m on sales of about $4.08bn. 

Tree axings 

Dutch food group Wessanen has sacked both the chief executive and the chief financial officer of its US health food chain Tree of Life, in the wake of a profits warning. Wessanen also said chairman Mac Zondervan had decided to stand down although he will remain at the helm until a successor has been found. Wessanen has dropped its net profit forecast for 2002 to 135m-40m compared with its previous 150m outlook. 

Cool cheer 

US soft drinks brand Cheerwine has been launched in Norway ­ the first time the brand has been sold outside the US. Distributor American Marketing has obtained the licence from manufacturer the Carolina Beverage Corporation.