Not long ago, few investors could imagine a time when a restaurant company’s food cost profile—not its indebtedness, lease obligations or franchising frictions—could be a potential deal killer in a merger or acquisition. Back then, equally few economists or agricultural experts could have predicted that U.S. farm and energy policies promoting biofuels from croplands would backfire and ignite divisive debate over rampant food commodity inflation. Yet that controversy now ...

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