Texas churned out a spate of news this week. Wildfires ripped through the Panhandle as the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference perked things up in Austin. Bader Rutter had some boots on the ground in the Lone Star State, fortunately at the latter event. Nationwide, influential figures in food production raised their voices about the SEC’s vote to approve its long-awaited climate rule. And, to celebrate Pi Day, clever food makers took to social media to celebrate, including Sara Lee Frozen Bakery’s Chef Pierre brand sharing this deep-dive into pie-ology.

Emission Recognition

On March 6, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published a final rule to “enhance and standardize climate-related disclosures by public companies.” For large food, beverage and agricultural producers, the most important part of the rule is a requirement to disclose “material” greenhouse gas emissions created through direct control (Scope 1) and energy use (Scope 2). The rule does not require disclosure of indirect emissions from suppliers (Scope 3).

  • After receiving a record-breaking 24,000 comments on the initial proposal, the SEC clarified that the final rule dropped Scope 3 emissions to balance “investors’ demand” for more information with “concerns about mitigating the associated costs of the rules.”
  • Agriculturalist groups welcomed this change, with American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall stating, “Farmers are committed to protecting the natural resources they’ve been entrusted with … but they cannot afford to hire compliance officers.”
  • The National Pork Producers Council thanked the SEC for easing its reporting requirements to avoid “consolidation in the agriculture industry as larger publicly traded companies sought complete control of their entire supply chains.”
  • Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth objected that the SEC’s final rule “allows some of the world’s biggest, most climate-destructive corporations to conceal their massive greenhouse gas footprints.”
  • Meanwhile, other environmentalist groups — including Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund and Sierra Club supported the rule for increasing transparency.

Our Takeaway: The largest food producers and retailers have already integrated emissions tracking into annual shareholder reports and ESG efforts. The SEC’s rule will have a greater impact on mid-size companies, particularly those considering an initial public offering.

Earning Trust in Texas

The Food Track portion of the SXSW Conference showcased a plethora of food industry experts, representing retail, foodservice, manufacturers and more. BR’s food & beverage PR director, Kate Joachim, made the trip and came back with these highlights. Expect a full writeup soon. 

  • Chef-philanthropist José Andrés inspired the audience to help World’s Central Kitchen in its mission to provide dignity and respect through food.
  • Mike’s Hot Honey founder Mike Kurtz talked about how CPG brands can leverage restaurant connections, collaborations and partnerships to get consumer attention.
  • Shake Shack CMO Jay Livingston highlighted a partnership with NotCo to create new vegan flavors and textures via AI, and how adding vegan options expands their audience to those vegans who may have “veto power” on restaurants.
  • Leaders from Whole Foods and Tetra Pak discussed what treating our planet well means — whether it’s sustainability, regenerative practices , upcycling or better soil management. Or all of the above. 
  • Driscoll’s outlined the benefits of timing product launches around consumer trends, like their rosé berry, which the fresh berry leader brought to market on the heels of the “rosé all day” trend.

Our Takeaway: A common Food Track thread emphasized the importance of staying true to your brand’s mission to earn consumer trust.

One Time They Don’t Want Everything to Be Bigger

At the time of publication, the wildfires in the Texas Panhandle are mostly contained after scorching 1.1 million acres, although weather conditions are favorable to fire returning to the region. While cattle losses are thought to number in the thousands, impacts to cattle markets are considered mostly localized. Longer-term effects to ag infrastructure in the region may take longer to determine, and it could take years for the already drought-stressed prairie to recover.

  • Texas wildfires leave millions of acres burned, thousands of livestock dead | Agri-Pulse
  • Firefighters make significant progress heading into 3rd week of Texas Panhandle wildfires | Amarillo Globe-News
  • Texas wildfires not expected to affect overall cattle, beef prices | BEEF magazine
  • USDA assists farmers, ranchers and communities affected by catastrophic Texas, Oklahoma wildfires | USDA
  • Farmers supporting producers affected by wildfires | Farms.com 
  • Wildfire burns 71,000 acres in central Nebraska | The Scoop

Our Takeaway: Fast-moving wildfires generate fast-moving news coverage followed by slow recoveries. Most market impact will be localized, but expect more grasslands to burn as winter recedes northward.

Worth Reading

Untrue Blue

Popular Science explained a Science Advances study that found there is no actual blue pigment in blueberries. Rather, an arrangement of microscopic matter that makes up the berries’ natural wax gives a blue appearance. “It’s partially because there is not a true blue pigment in the natural world. To appear this color, the molecules in both plants and animals have to perform tricks to make them appear blue to the human eye.” What’s next? We find out they’re not actual berries?

The State of the Kitchen Table

Many outlets covered how President Biden used his State of the Union address last week to take broadsides at high food prices and “shrinkflation.” The Associated Press characterized the comments as the administration’s attempt to reframe opinions about the economy by blaming big business. NPR looked closer at the numbers and why buying power hasn’t recovered despite inflation slowing and wages growing. Not surprisingly, Consumer Brands Association responded quickly with a press release blaming the issue primarily on high input costs.

Working 9 to 5. Or 2-10. Or Whatever …

While remote working has eased white-collar worker shortages, blue-collar labor has struggled to keep pace with a scarce and aging manufacturing workforce. The Wall Street Journal published a fascinating profile on the Land O’ Lakes “flex work” program it has implemented at 60 of 140 factories. While there are trade-offs like higher training costs, reduced overtime pay and improved retention more than offset them. Most tellingly, the factory received over 100 applications for a single flex position, compared with the 0 applications for 26 full-time roles.

Blue Milk Turns Red

Mark Novicoff’s March 10 Politico article summarized how the consumption of raw milk has reversed polarity, politically speaking. “Long a fringe health food for new-age hippies and fad-chasing liberal foodies, raw milk has won over the hearts and minds of GOP legislators and regulators in the last few years … And it’s not just in Iowa. Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, Georgia and Wyoming all have passed laws (or changed regulations) since 2020 legalizing the sale of raw milk on farms or in stores.” Politics aside, we read Food Safety News every day and heed its editors’ warnings to abstain from raw dairy. 

Snack Brand Mashups

Food Dive explored how a slew of unique collaborations have yielded new tastes, textures and experiences that are poised to elevate consumer snacking this spring. From a condiment mashup between Hidden Valley Ranch and Cheez-It to sugar-free Sparkling Ice Starburst, these unexpected creations exemplify how food brands can expand their product portfolios with unconventional offerings that venture into previously untapped categories.

Artificially Illustrated
Archimedes making a blueberry pie
Today, we honor a man ahead of his time: Archimedes, a mathematician, astronomer and, most important, the patron of Pi Day.

Midjourney illustration by Ryan Smith