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    INTERNATIONAL NEWS

    7-Eleven Australia is launching new line of ready-to-eat foods, BP and Shell to open 1,000 gas stations in East China.

    7-Eleven Australia has announced plans to launch a new ready-to-eat food line under the Munch brand next month, according to a report by PlanetRetail.com.

    The new brand sets a new benchmark in the c-store market and demonstrates the company's commitment to innovatively meet the needs of consumers, said Warren Wilmot, 7-Eleven Australia CEO. "We've built on our experience with the Fresh-n-Fast brand that was launched in 2004 to create a foodservice offer that fits in with our customers busy lifestyles. It gives consumers tasty food at a great price, that's ready to grab and eat on the run," he added.

    The Munch range includes 50 products, including sandwiches, wraps, fruit salads, fruit yogurts, fresh juice, flavored milk and spring water, muffins, donuts, cake slices and a selection of 12 gourmet pies, PlanetRetail.com reported.

    "In taste tests some people initially didn't believe the food was from 7-Eleven. Munch will change customers' perceptions and set a new benchmark for the taste and quality you can expect in the convenience sector," Wilmot said. "Many people forget that convenience customers have different food needs to shoppers buying food to eat or serve later. Munch customers will be eating almost immediately and many times on the go, so we've created ways to help make our food easier to eat."

    In other international news, SinoCast China Financial Watch reported that global energy giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell are each erecting 500 service stations in East China under an alliance with Sinopec, Asia's top oil refinery.

    The two foreign players have already set up oil sales joint ventures with Sinopec to prepare for the gas stations, thanks to Beijing's World Trade Organization commitments of opening the product oil retailing market at the end of 2004, the report said.

    The venture between Shell and Sinopec kicked off in August 2004 as the Anglo-Dutch oil group's first product oil sales subsidiary in China. Based in Jiangsu, a Chinese province in the east, it was designed to build 500 gas stations mainly in the cities of Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou.

    Meanwhile, the venture between BP and Sinopec is based in Zhejiang Province, which is also along China's eastern seaboard. It was scheduled to open 150 service stations in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang, and Ningbo, a major city of Zhejiang, each year since the establishment and lift the total number to 500 in three years, according to SinoCast China Financial Watch.

    Government-backed Sinopec owns a 60 percent stake in both joint ventures and its foreign partners the remaining, respectively. Sinopec is the sole oil provider for these gas stations.

    Among China's approximately 85,000 service stations, Sinopec has owned as many as 55 percent and state-owned PetroChina 32 percent. Foreign players, including BP and Shell, have only less than 5 percent of the total by the two. But, as the country is to fully open the product oil wholesales market by the year-end, foreigners are expected to strive for a bigger slice, the report said.

    Reportedly, PetroChina's parent, China National Petroleum Corporation, is now talking with Lukoil, Russia's largest oil company, to build more than 100 gas stations in the Chinese Northeast region, which consists of three provinces -- Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. Once it succeeds, Lukoil is to be the second Russia's oil company to enter China's oil retailing market, but also the first Russian oil company to erect gas stations in China.

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