SOME CHANGES IN STORE FOR STARBUCKS: Starbucks is introducing an automated espresso machine and getting back to grinding beans in its stores as the coffee retailer seeks to re-energize its slumping business. Facing thousands of shareholders eager to hear the company's plans, Starbucks Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Schultz on Wednesday announced the arrival of the Mastrena, a new machine designed to leave a smaller margin for error in pulling shots and steaming milk. While likely to disappoint some longing for the return of old-school manual machines, the Mastrena is about seven inches shorter than machines in stores now, making it easier for baristas to interact with customers. In an interview before the company's annual shareholders' meeting, executives said the company also will quit using flavor-locked bags of preground coffee next month. Instead, it will grind beans in most of its U.S. stores to bring back the aroma that's been missing since it started using sealed grounds years ago.
YOU WON'T WANT TO CHUG THIS BUBBLY: Undeterred by swooning financial markets, the world's super-rich are jostling for the latest limited-edition deluxe offering: champagne that costs about $6,300 a bottle. At 50,000 euros, or nearly $79,000, for a case of 12, the Perrier-Jouet officially goes on sale today after a glitzy launch party at Paris' Opera Garnier. Many of the 100 box sets available have been snapped up by celebrities including former Bond girl Sophie Marceau, singer Marianne Faithfull and actress Victoria Abril. The price tab includes a one-on-one session with cellar master Herve Deschamps, who helped Chinese actress Gong Li pick her champagne Wednesday. The bubbly is tailor-made through the addition of a liqueur, a combination of sugar and wines from different years, according to Cavil. Buyers also will be offered an haute cuisine dinner and an overnight stay at Perrier-Jouet's Belle-Epoque mansion in Epernay, east of Paris. French wine and spirits company Pernod Ricard SA acquired premium champagne brands Mumm and Perrier-Jouet when it bought British rival Allied Domecq PLC in 2005.
U.S. AUTO EXECS; WE WILL SURVIVE: If the economy continues to worsen and U.S. auto sales nosedive, the top executives of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC say they are prepared to weather the downturn. Speaking at separate events in New York on Wednesday, Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally and Chrysler Chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli said their restructuring plans have cut factory capacity and other costs so they can make it through a deeper slowdown. Nardelli said at the New York International Auto Show that Chrysler prepared for a downturn in U.S. sales this year with layoffs and cuts in manufacturing and inventory. Mulally told industry analysts that Ford, too, is ready even if U.S. auto sales drop to the low-15 million vehicle range this year. Mulally said Ford planned for overall U.S. market sales of 15.7 million for the full year, but during the first two months it's running about 15.3 million. That's at the low end of what Ford predicted for the first part of the year, but Mulally said the company's restructuring efforts are on or ahead of plan, preparing it for trouble. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the company continues to believe sales will rise in the second half of the year and will end up similar to last year's total of 16.1 million. But if sales continue to slide, GM will take steps to reduce costs at all levels of the company, he said.
ITUNES DEAL IN WORKS FOR I-FOLKS?: Apple Inc. is negotiating with record labels over a deal to give iPhone and iPod customers free access to the iTunes music library if they pay extra for the devices. The Financial Times is reporting that the sticking point in the talks is how much Apple will pay the record labels for the access. Apple declined to comment. The newspaper reports that Apple is looking at offering the unlimited music bundle with the iPod and iPhone, as well as a monthly music subscription service only for the iPhone.
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