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POSTED December 20, 2012 9:31 p.m.

OLIVE GARDEN OWNER SHIFTS COURSE TO FOCUS ON DEALS: NEW YORK (AP) — After new ad campaigns touting the quality of its food failed to spark sales, the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster is retooling its strategy to attract diners with more promotional deals.

The shift comes after Darden Restaurants Inc. earlier this fall moved to update the image of its flagship chains and appeal to younger diners in their 20s and 30s, who increasingly prize fresh, high-quality ingredients. The problem is that many of those same diners also want cheaper prices and convenience, reflecting the rise of chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Panera Bread Co., which offer food that's a step up from traditional fast-food for slightly higher prices.

In addition to those shifting tastes, Darden and other casual dining chains such as Applebee's are dealing with customers who are being more careful about where and how often they eat out in the weak economy.

In a conference call with analysts Thursday, the company also stressed that none of its full-time employees would be put on part-time status as a way to limit costs tied to new health care regulations. Darden noted a publicity backlash over its tests to use more part-timers hurt sales in the latest quarter.

DISCOVER FINANCIAL SERVICES 4Q NET INCOME RISES: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Discover Financial Services on Thursday reported higher earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter, as users of its namesake credit card stepped up purchases and the company wrote off fewer unpaid balances.

Even so, the Riverwoods, Ill.-based company's results fell short of Wall Street expectations, and investors sent its shares down over 3 percent Thursday.

Discover, the nation's sixth-largest credit card issuer, said total loans, credit card loans and Discover card sales volume increased 6 percent in the quarter, which coincided with the tail end of the back-to-school shopping season and the ramp up to the December holidays — key periods when consumers traditionally spend more.

MEAT COMPANY SUES FEDS OVER HORSE SLAUGHTERHOUSE: ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico meat company that wants to resume domestic horse slaughter for food is suing the federal government, alleging inaction on its application was driven by emotional political debates and has cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Valley Meat Co. is seeking to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to resume inspections necessary to open what would be the nation's first new horse slaughterhouse in more than five years.

The company and its owner, Rick de los Santos, have also sued the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, and Animal Protection of New Mexico, accusing the organizations of defamation during a yearlong dispute that has reignited debate over the humane treatment of horses and how best to control the nation's exploding equine population.

Perhaps the most divisive question is whether the noble, iconic animals that played a key role in the settling of much of America are livestock or pets.

 

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