December 2, 2022
Friday by Noon:

An Abundance of Bargaining

Programming note: Friday by Noon will be back for its final edition of 2022 in two weeks.

The year is winding down, but not without plenty of commotion in our nation’s capital. Between the Biden administration and Congress, your federal government kept busy churning out food policy despite entering a lame-duck session.

  • Congress averted a railroad worker strike.
  • Groups poked holes in the Kroger-Albertsons merger.
  • Opening salvos will set the tone for the 2023 Farm Bill negotiations.

Deal Time in the Switching Yard

On November 21, the final votes came in on a contract the Biden administration helped negotiate back in September between railroad workers and their employers. Of the 12 unions representing the workers, eight approved and four rejected the deal — citing a lack of paid sick days as the sticking point. Thousands of containers of food and farm products travel the rails daily, so industry experts have developments watched closely.

  • Despite support from the majority of unions, the dissent stirred concerns about strikes. Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ian Jefferies warned that a rail shutdown would amount to “a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy.”
  • Industry groups — ranging from 204 members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group to manufacturing-heavy Consumer Brands Association to the National Retail Federation — urged Congress to step in and impose the most-recent contract.
  • On November 28, President Biden requested that Congress take up the issue: “As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
  • Politico noted that Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives catered to unions by passing two bills: one enforcing the September contract, the second adding seven paid sick days to sweeten the deal.
  • The U.S. Senate approved the bill imposing the contract on December 1, but did not approve the provision to increase paid sick leave (CBS News). President Biden is expected to sign the bill shortly.

Tough Merger

Executives from Kroger and Albertsons appeared before the Senate on November 29 to defend their proposed $20 billion merger. If approved, this mega-chain would hold a 14% share of retail grocery, behind Walmart’s 22% market.

  • The Wall Street Journal explained the business case the two companies have been making for the merger: competing with Walmart and online grocers, better ability to keep prices low, ability to pay higher wages and having capital for improving stores.
  • Food Processing summarized the hearing, capturing the viewpoint of a smaller retailer from Ohio who worried that the deal “would make the merged company even more able to squeeze competitors like his company with predatory pricing.”
  • Meatingplace quoted Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen’s defense: “Our business model is built around lowering prices to attract more customers, rather than making higher margins on fewer customers.”
  • Opposition to the merger was fierce: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tweeted, “Consolidation leaves behind those communities most in need.” A senior Consumer Reports researcher argued that “shoppers would have fewer choices and more sticker shock” (CNBC). The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union objected to the merger cutting thousands of grocery jobs.

End-of-year Pre-billing

Now that midterm results are settled, jockeying for position about the 2023 Farm Bill has begun in earnest. Political groups, environmentalists, think tanks and others have made public their wish lists and agendas for the food and farm policy bill that will likely surpass half a trillion dollars for the first time.

  • Last week, Politico’s Garrett Downs broke down the intricate, divided interests between Republicans and Democrats, highlighted an abundance of bickering about the definition of “regenerative ag” and pointed out some common ground: “It appears there’s a way to please both [parties]: promoting farming methods that help growers use less fertilizer.”
  • Jonathan Ahl of Harvest Public Media noted that split chambers of Congress will make negotiation of nutrition titles tricky, particularly for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps).
  • Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.) outlined plans to slow or stop Biden Administration changes to climate policy and pesticide approvals (Agri-Pulse).
  • The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s platform spanned 144 pages of suggestions that include “natural resources conservation” and “structural reform to farm programs.”
  • New Hope Network covered wish lists from the “natural” products sector, including support for organic feed production and approval for plant-based beverages in school lunches.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation discussed how the Farm Bill could mitigate the risk to farmers of so-called “specialty crops” (a broad category that includes apples, lentils, pecans, zucchini and hundreds more). These smaller crops trail corn and soy in access to disaster relief, crop insurance and futures trading.
  • Modern Farmer highlighted the National Young Farmers Coalition’s aims to lower barriers to land access for beginning farmers.

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Thanks to a study published by researchers at Cornell and USDA, we know that U.S. food pantries aren’t simply good in the abstract. They’re good to the tune of $19-$28 billion annually in economic value. The researchers conclude that these free organizations contribute as much as $1,000 each year to individual families, making food banks a vital resource in addressing food insecurity, which has grown worse with recent inflation. The study reviewed 13 years of data from a food bank in northern Colorado, then extrapolated the results nationally based on input from a 2014 Feeding America study.

Worth Reading

The Slow Macaroni Suit

A Florida woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against Kraft Heinz for falsely advertising the preparation time on its Velveeta Shells & Cheese packaging. NPR noted that Spencer Sheehan, the woman’s lawyer, “Has almost single-handedly caused a historic spike in the number of class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies — up more than 1000% since 2008.” If only our pasta cooked quicker, we might have the time to file frivolous lawsuits …

Whirlybird Wranglers

New York Times reporter Damien Cave explored the Australian practice of exporting tens of thousands of live cattle to Indonesia, recruiting helicopters in the process. “Born and bred on a fenceless expanse of golden grass and red dirt in the Australian outback, where horses, dingoes and crocodiles share the land, these animals are wild enough to charge a chopper.”

Fat Chance

Eight years after the cover of TIME told readers to “Eat Butter,” fat is still enjoying a renaissance in popular food marketing. Eater detailed how smaller olive oil brands are adopting edgier messages, bolder colors and over-the-top imagery “meant to evoke a lifestyle.” Author Jaya Saxena further explained, “We are in a moment when food trends are all about the extravagance … But the coolness becomes conferred by the look alone, secondary to any quality inherent to the product itself.” Thanks, Instagram …

Incredible, if Authentic

In Supermarket Perimeter, Donna Berry discussed the critical importance of using genuine egg products in baking. Amid rising costs due to supply chain issues and avian influenza, many bakers are seeking alternatives. However, “Whole eggs are known for providing more than 20 functions to baked goods. They influence overall appearance, flavor and richness as well as texture, batter quality and water activity.”

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November 18, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Thanks-taking

It’s been a busy week as brands gear up for the holiday season.

  • Inflation invited itself to Thanksgiving dinner. Party crasher.
  • Alternative protein development shifted in favor of cell-culture tech.

Talkin’ Turkey

As the only federal holiday where a meal is the main form of celebration, Thanksgiving often exemplifies the state of the food industry. So, given that inflation has been the story of the year, it’s no surprise that food prices dominated concerns.

  • In its annual survey, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that Thanksgiving dinner for 10 costs 20% more in 2022 than it did in 2021.
  • Grocers have gone out of their way to reduce the sting, with Aldi, Kroger, Lidl and Walmart all reducing prices for Thanksgiving staples.
  • Meanwhile, The New York Post suggested that eating out may be a better value, given that restaurant prices have only increased by 5.8% since 2021.
  • On PBS NewsHour, Yuko Sato of Iowa State University explained that an ongoing outbreak of avian influenza — which has claimed 50 million birds across 46 states this year — is exacerbating inflation for turkeys.
  • Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk noted that a “downward shift in demand, coupled with higher prices, likely means fewer turkeys on the Thanksgiving table this year.”
  • For those who are cooking turkeys, the USDA offered its annual food safety advice. Our addendum: please thaw the bird before deep frying. Otherwise … BOOM!
  • Modern Farmer reported that the cranberry harvest came in short, too. Farm Progress detailed the harvest in Wisconsin, where half of the world’s cranberries are grown. The good news is that it wasn’t as bad as last year.
  • The Washington Post’s Tamar Haspel investigated the climate impact of Thanksgiving dinner. While her evaluation is largely positive, she did call out food waste as a “climate villain.”
  • Lest anyone forget about the importance of both kids and corn at the harvest meal, Green Giant partnered with Corn Kid for its seasonal messaging (Food & Wine).

“So strong is the pull of Thanksgiving turkey, even 41% of those who say they follow a vegetarian, pescatarian or vegan diet said they will eat turkey on Thanksgiving. The turkey is nonnegotiable.”

Emily Moquin, Morning Consult

Protein Pivot

The alternative protein sector appears to be at a turning point. Plant-based meat substitutes have largely failed the fast food test and retail sales have also stalled. Still, the market isn’t completely bust — BOCA burgers have been around since the 80s, after all — but the betting money has moved on. To that end, investment in cell-cultured proteins has geared up steadily and the sector is rapidly approaching market readiness.

  • Beyond Meat recorded a 22.5% drop in revenue in the third quarter and recently cut 19% of its workforce (The Associated Press). Additionally, Maple Leaf Foods’ plant protein division continued to post losses through the third quarter.
  • Laura Reiley of The Washington Post chalked up the sector’s shakiness to high prices, unclear health benefits, overcrowded competition, slow restaurant sales and a lack of versatility.
  • Nestlé Chief Technology Officer Stefan Palzer told Bloomberg that the market will likely see more sustainable growth now that “overly optimistic expectations of consumer uptake” have been tempered.
  • Nevertheless, Food Business News reported that ingredient makers Ingredion and IFF remain hard at work developing new plant-based products.
  • Development of the cell-cultured proteins has been progressing rapidly, as well. Forsea Foods pulled in $5.2 million to cultivate eel protein. Vow raised $49.2 million to scale its quail-based protein. And Food Ingredients First wrote that South Korean companies are on track to obtain more patents this year than the rest of the world combined.
  • On November 16, Alt-Meat broke news that the FDA issued a letter affirming the safety of Upside Foods’ cultivated chicken product. While the lab-grown protein is not yet approved for sale, Upside founder and CEO Uma Valeti called the letter “a watershed moment in the history of food.”
  • Perhaps there’s a third way? TechCrunch featured Meatable’s hybrid approach to alternative protein, which includes both plant-based proteins and cultured animal cells in one product to speed up both product development and consumer adoption.

Worth Reading

Traceable Expenses

More than a decade after its original proposal, the FDA released its final Food Traceability Rule on November 15. Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy, championed the rule: “Food safety is first about protecting public health, but it’s also about trust. We CAN and MUST do better.” But National Grocers Association Vice President Stephanie Johnson worried, “This final rule … will be expensive to implement and require additional labor that many stores cannot spare.”

Emission Estimates

Sustainability data company HowGood announced Scope 3, a reporting feature that provides food companies with carbon emissions information from a database of over 33,000 ingredients. CEO Alexander Gillett explained to Food Business News: “There is mounting pressure from regulatory bodies and consumers alike for food companies to reduce their carbon emissions, and yet few tools are available to accurately measure the most impactful parts of the agricultural supply chain.”

Sustainable Aspirations

Food Ingredients First featured a study from ingredient company Kerry, which found that more than half of consumers are “willing to pay a premium for food and beverages which fulfill [sustainability] expectations.” But, as many dieters know, what people want to do doesn’t always match how they act. Progressive Grocer shared InsightsNow data that found sustainability has the largest “aspiration gap”: “42% of shoppers [aspire] to shop for sustainably sourced products, but only 5% [are] able to actually do this.”

Warehouse = Greenhouse?

On November 10, United Natural Foods (UNFI) and Square Roots partnered to establish indoor farms at distribution centers. Square Roots co-founder and CEO Tobias Peggs touted the partnership’s ability to “[increase] supply chain resilience and [reduce] miles driven transporting food. It’s good business, and it’s also better for people and the planet.” Getting literal about “picking” orders.

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November 11, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Hot Air and Climate Talk

Two events drove the policy world this week, with food and beverage production accounting for a slice of each conversation:

  • Food and farming took center stage at the 27th annual climate conference.
  • Inflation and rising food costs influenced some voters in the midterm elections.

“The one certainty about the outcome of midterms is that it will allow all factions … to claim the results validate their approach …”

Ted Nordhaus, Executive Director, The Breakthrough Institute (Twitter)

Food Policy COPs

On November 6, The United Nations kicked off its 27th annual “Conference of Parties” climate summit, COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The summit called upon experts from around the globe “to accelerate global climate action through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts and enhanced flows of appropriate finance.” The conference brought food production into focus more prominently than ever before and provided a timely opportunity for producers to reflect on climate progress and make commitments for the future.

  • Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg attended the conference and posted daily dispatches that highlighted the summit’s food and agricultural programming.
  • Food Ingredients First reporter Marc Cervera explained how agri-food systems are core to the agenda this year and opined, “So many targets have been set and are yet to materialize, accelerating commitments towards eating for the health of people and the planet needs to be more than just words.”
  • Prior to the conference, the North American Meat Institute posted its first “Continuous Improvement Report,” which will serve as a baseline for measuring meat industry targets for environmental sustainability, animal care, food safety, worker safety and food security.
  • By contrast, The Guardian shared a report from the Sustainable Markets Initiative, a worldwide network of CEOs from Bayer, Mars, McDonald’s, Mondelēz, and PepsiCo. The report suggested that the pace of change in environmental stewardship practices in food production has been too slow.
  • Reuters detailed how 14 major food trading companies like Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland shared their plan to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains for soy, beef and palm oil by 2025.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap report, released about a week before the conference, pointed out several steps food production can take — including land use, biodiversity preservation, conservation of freshwater and pollution reduction — to reverse current trends.

Electing to Talk About Food

On November 8, voters cast midterm election ballots. While there was only one food production measure up for a direct vote — Sioux Falls, South Dakota, voted not to ban meatpacking plants within city limits — the senators, representatives and governors who have been elected will have direct effects on how food is produced, regulated and distributed.

  • Leading up to the election, Food Dive Associate Editor Chris Casey addressed the role of rising food prices and food industry consolidation in shaping voters’ opinions.
  • Politico highlighted races where food- and agriculture-oriented lawmakers faced stiff competition for reelection and the key policy provisions those leaders have championed.
  • Marc Heller of E&E News wrote that the changes to agriculture committee membership jeopardizes the Biden administration’s climate-smart agriculture programs.
  • MarketWatch focused on the impact leadership changes will have on the 2023 Farm Bill — including the balance of funds for farming incentives and food stamp benefits.

Worth Reading

Twitter Advertisers Take Flight

Elon Musk’s high-profile takeover of Twitter has sparked reevaluation of food companies’ marketing strategies. Newsweek kept tabs on which brands have pulled ads from the social media platform, including General Mills and Mondelēz. The paper noted that its reporting on the topic was one-sided: “Since Musk’s takeover, Twitter has reportedly stopped responding to press requests.” Fun fact: Twitter only accounted for 0.9% of digital ad spending so far this year.

Off-the-shelf Showmanship

Progressive Grocer Senior Editor Lynn Petrak shared unconventional advice that grocers should “get into the entertainment business.” At the annual Grocery Leaders Executive Forum, Lowes Foods President Tim Lowe explained how his company boosted sales through the use of in-store events, such as having employees “dress up and do the chicken dance in stores when hot chicken was ready.” Some employees must have cried fowl.

Spacey Trends

Mintel was one of the first out of the gate with 2023 predictions. The research firm pointed out four interesting food and drink trends “centered around space, climate change, mental performance and the overwhelmed consumer. This year’s trends make recommendations for brands to reassure consumers who continue to be challenged to adapt to a precarious world.”

Enzymatic Entrepreneurs

One of the chief nutrition complaints about juice is that it’s the sugary part of fruit without the fiber. Food Ingredients First reported that an Israeli company, Better Juice, has developed an enzymatic process to solve this issue by converting sucrose, glucose and fructose into prebiotic and insoluble fiber — reducing simple sugar content by 80%. Would you like your orange juice sweetened or unsweetened?

Pivoting Protein

As the alternative protein market continues to slow down, Food Business News reported that Beyond Meat is pivoting its business to make up for multimillion-dollar losses in the last quarter. “We are significantly reducing operating expenses while focusing on a more narrow set of strategic partners, retail and foodservice opportunities and utilizing lean value streams across our beef, pork and poultry platforms,” said Ethan Brown, president and CEO of the company.

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November 4, 2022
Friday by Noon:

A Slow Go

While most of us spent the weekend trick-or-treating (or trunk-or-treating), the spookiest action in food and agriculture came from disruptions to trade and transportation. Again.

  • Restaurant industry analyses served up more bad news.
  • Mexico and Russia shook up commodity markets.
  • Food transportation hit a slowdown within the U.S.

‘A Massive Slide’

The foodservice industry continues to play catch-up nearly three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Average restaurant hours of operation fell 6.4 hours per week compared to pre-pandemic numbers, according to research firm Datassential. Calling it “a massive slide,” Datassential attributed the 7.5% drop to labor shortages.
  • Exemplifying this trend, Denny’s unveiled a plan to restore 24/7 operation. FSR wrote that only 60% of its stores are currently running 24/7, compared to 95% pre-pandemic.
  • In a Nation’s Restaurant News podcast, senior editor Bret Thorn declared the death of the daypart: “The three-course meal and the three-meal day still have their part to play in nourishing Americans, but increasingly consumers are spreading out their eating to suit their evolving needs.”
  • Vox explored restaurant service fees, which have contributed to increasing check averages. “Service charges are making dining out more expensive, but that doesn’t mean your server sees that cash.”
  • Foodservice worker Caitlin Hart opined in Civil Eats: “Tech has a place in restaurants … But relying on technology in a way that removes agency from the humans in the equation is hell on workers. It also often bypasses one of the central joys of dining out: human connection.”
  • In case restaurants haven’t gotten exclusive enough for you, The Associated Press reports that San Francisco-based Dogue now serves filet mignon to dogs — and only dogs. Somewhere, Marie Antoinette is smirking …

Food Diplomacy

Billions of lives worldwide depend on the uninterrupted flow of food and agricultural goods, so it quickly becomes a big deal when anything upsets the status quo. As U.S. producers contended with changes in Mexican trade policy, war factored into overseas exchanges.

  • As the largest importer of U.S. corn, Mexico raised eyebrows when it passed a ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), effective 2024. NPR quoted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: “While there may be decisions made in Mexico not to cultivate [GMO] corn, it doesn’t limit the ability of Mexico to import.” That’s a big deal, considering 90% of U.S. corn is genetically modified.
  • In The Hill, George Mason University researcher Christine McDaniel noted that Mexico’s policy is projected to cost the country’s economy $20 billion and could hit U.S. corn growers for $13.6 billion over 10 years.
  • On a different front, Floridian members of Congress petitioned the U.S. Trade Representative to investigate Mexican producers for dumping fruit and vegetables at artificially low prices.
  • The USTR rejected the Floridian petition on October 24, instead opting to establish an advisory panel “to promote the competitiveness of producers of seasonal and perishable produce.”
  • On the global front, Farm Journal’s Jenna Hoffman cited reports from the Chinese military that suggested the need to import food — particularly from the United States — posed a roadblock to invading Taiwan.
  • Reuters reported on October 31 that Russia jeopardized global wheat supplies by withdrawing from a deal allowing Ukrainian exports that are often destined for food-secure regions in Africa and the Middle East. On November 3, the warring nations agreed to reinstate the prior agreement (The Associated Press).
  • AgFunder News posted an opinion piece that Russia’s actions highlighted the need for a “Marshall Plan for food.” Author Johan Jorgensen argued that distributing food production across more countries would reduce geopolitical instability.

Stopped Up

Snarled transportation over land and sea is further complicating supply chains, elevating discussions of rising food costs. The massive drought that has gripped the western United States has also migrated east, threatening to affect crop yields, water-bound transportation and exports. Additionally, a looming railroad worker strike has resurfaced, which only further exacerbates an already challenging situation.

  • Andrew Walmsley, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of government affairs, listed all the weak transportation links throughout the food supply chain: labor availability, high diesel prices, low waterway levels, service issues and a potential of a railway strike.
  • Des Moines Register reporter Donnelle Eller summarized how a drought in the High Plains and Midwest has vastly reduced water levels in the Mississippi River. Farmers are concerned that the low water levels will not only obstruct products heading downstream for international export, but also incoming barges that carry fertilizer for the spring planting season.
  • Agri-Pulse listened in on ADM’s quarterly earnings call, during which CEO Juan Ricardo Luciano cited low water levels of the Mississippi River as likely to reduce soybean exports, and delay corn exports into 2023.
  • The Scoop interviewed consultant Altin Kalo about rising fuel costs. Kalo noted that “Diesel fuel affects the entire food supply chain, from the tractors and pickup trucks on the farm to the trucks that deliver grains and livestock to plants and the vehicles that move meat products and finished goods to processing plants and retail stores.”
  • Supermarket News shared some Food Shippers of America research that prioritized the biggest concerns for food retail leaders. Labor and transportation capacity issues ranked the highest.
  • The potential for a railroad worker strike resurfaced after two unions rejected a tentative agreement reached back in September. On October 27, more than 300 food and agriculture industry groups signed a letter to President Biden urging his administration “to provide stability and predictability to the system. Your involvement can only help make that happen and ensure there is no interruption to rail service.”

Worth Reading

Marionberry Supreme?

Eater described how chefs have been re-creating their own version of Taco Bell’s storied Crunchwrap Supreme. “Its lasting popularity is a testament to the foods that excite us now, and how nostalgia, the internet, and Portland’s ethos shape the local restaurant world.” Chef Gabriel Rucker in Portland, Oregon, stuffed one copycat with duck and marionberry hoisin sauce. Talk about “Live más.”

Researchers Under the Microscope

An October 31 New York Times article profiled Dr. Frank Mitloehner, who researches livestock sustainability. The Times criticized the Clear Center at UC Davis, which Mitloehner runs, for accepting funds from the nonprofit Institute for Feed Education and Research. In a response, he wrote, “I cannot help the livestock sector reduce its environmental impact without working directly with its members.”

Guess Who’s Back?

The McRib officially returned to McDonald’s restaurants on Monday, once again teasing a final, final farewell tour. Bloomberg reported that pork-rib stocks had gone up by 79% for the month of September, likely in anticipation of the return of “The GOAT of sandwiches.” Emily Heil from The Washington Post responded to the farewell news by referring to the sandwich as a “toxic relationship” that keeps coming back.

Edible Robots

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) designed an edible drone that could help provide aid in search and rescue missions. The drone prototype was built with edible rice cake wings, allowing it to carry more payload than most other delivery drones while still transporting life-sustaining nutrients.

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October 27, 2022
Quarterly Report:

Withering Weather | Top Ten Topics Q3 2022

Third-quarter conversations turned toward interactions between nature and agricultural production as harvest approached. At the same time, food price inflation took a toll on businesses and consumers alike.

Highlights from this report on the top conversations in food, beverage and agriculture include:

  • Views on the intertwined topics of extreme weather, climate change and farm stewardship practices.
  • Policy efforts to ensure food safety, reduce hunger, and boost nutrition and health.
  • Ongoing supply chain innovation in niche and international markets.
Top Ten Topics Q3 2022

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October 21, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Megamerger on Aisle 2

Big business, big bacteria and the bounty of the sea led conversations among the influential voices in food production that we follow. And scroll on down to the “Worth Reading” section for some extremes on the healthiness spectrum.

  • Kroger and Albertsons made plans to form a megamarket.
  • USDA proposed a new framework addressing Salmonella in poultry.
  • A healthy crop of interesting reads about seafood posted.

Übermarket

On October 14, Kroger, the second-largest grocer, announced plans to buy the fourth-largest grocer, Albertsons, for $24.6 billion. Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen stated, “This merger advances our commitment to build a more equitable and sustainable food system by expanding our footprint into new geographies.” But the sheer size of the merger — adding up to 11.8% of the grocery market — invited skepticism from many sources.

  • Bloomberg wrote that, despite potential regulatory hurdles, the merger “is a huge score for the four Wall Street banks that put together the year’s fifth biggest deal.”
  • Technomic Senior Principal David Henkes tweeted a map showing “complementary footprints” of the grocers’ locations.
  • Business Insider framed the deal as a boon for expanding Kroger’s automation technologies.
  • Because both Kroger and Albertsons employ unionized workers, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone warned, “UFCW will oppose any merger that threatens the jobs of America’s essential workers, union and non-union, and undermines our communities.”
  • The National Grocers Association, which represents independent grocers, worried that the merger would “increase anticompetitive buyer power over grocery suppliers.”
  • Senate antitrust panel ranking member Mike Lee (R-Utah) promised to “do everything in my power to ensure our antitrust laws are robustly enforced.”
  • On October 21, the Wall Street Journal’s Jaewon Kang described the antitrust hurdles considering market share in certain regions, focusing on overlaps with big box retailers that sell groceries and other products.
  • Former Whole Foods Vice President Errol Schweizer argued, “The grocery industry is far too concentrated and suppliers, employees and consumers would all benefit from disaggregating the grocery giants.”

Stuck on Salmonella

On October 14, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed a new framework to reduce poultry-based Salmonella infections. The release included a few astonishing facts: Salmonella causes 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year, 23% of which can be attributed to contaminated poultry. In total, foodborne Salmonella infections cause a $4.1 billion red mark on the economy.

  • The new strategy has three primary components: Salmonella testing before flocks enter a processing plant, relocating some of the existing sampling procedures in plants, and implementing an enforceable final product standard. USDA will host a virtual public meeting on Nov. 3 to gather input on the proposed policy.
  • Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase interviewed Sandra Eskin, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, who said that while contamination rates in raw poultry are down, infections have been “stubbornly stuck for the last 20 years.”
  • Food Safety News quoted attorney Bill Marler, who was critical of the proposal’s depth, but pleased something is being done to address Salmonella: “This is the first public-facing document I’ve seen in more than 30 years that FSIS has put out there showing that they understand there is a problem.”
  • In a release (and in very release-like language), Consumer Reports Food Policy Director Brian Ronholm quoted … himself: “It’s critical for the USDA to work expeditiously to adopt aggressive goals to sharply reduce Salmonella contamination and focus its efforts on the strains that pose the biggest threat to human health.”
  • Maryn McKenna, a prominent advocate for reducing antibiotics in livestock, posted an article in Wired which examined the antibiotic resistance angle in fighting Salmonella.
  • Not everyone was pleased with the proposed framework. Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, offered this criticism: “We support the need to develop science-based approaches that will impact public health, but this is being done backwards. The agency is formulating regulatory policies and drawing conclusions before gathering data, much less analyzing it. This isn’t science — it’s speculation.”

News From the Deep

In a change of pace, attention to seafood eclipsed conversations around land-based protein sources over the past two weeks.

  • Progressive Grocer broke down IRI data on seafood sales, finding that the category declined by 10% since last September. Shelf-stable varieties saw 7.8% gains, while fresh seafood took the biggest hit.
  • On October 10, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceled the 2022-23 snow crab season due to a crab population decline. NBC News reported that the combination of this cancellation and the second cancellation of red king crab season amounted to a “two-pronged disaster” for the Alaskan crab industry.
  • CNN cited NOAA Fisheries Program Manager Michael Litzow, who attributed the 40% decline in mature male crabs to climate change and rising Arctic water temperatures.
  • While acknowledging that overfishing has declined since the 2000s, The Pew Charitable Trusts suggested that Northeast Atlantic fisheries may face fish population declines if biodiversity is not maintained.
  • The UK’s On The Hook campaign posted harsh criticism of the Marine Stewardship Council’s eco labeling: “The MSC continues to certify highly damaging industrial fishing practices, while remaining inaccessible to many small-scale developing world fisheries, and concerns about certified fisheries range from habitat damage and bycatch to human rights abuses.” Perishable News offered more details.
  • Food Ingredients First described the intense opposition to Spanish fishery Nueva Pescanova’s plans to build the world’s first large-scale octopus farm off the coast of the Canary Islands. Activists cite fish depletion and environmental damage.
  • And, in a bit of pop culture commentary, The Onion delivered perhaps the most memorable take: “It’s sad to think how many Red Lobster menu items could disappear in our lifetime.”

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Retailer Aldi announced lower prices on dozens of top-selling products to help shoppers save money on groceries this holiday season. By cutting costs on everything from bacon to frozen ground beef to raw honey by as much as a dollar, the chain hopes to expand the impact of its Aldi Price Promise to be the low-cost leader during the busiest season of the year for grocery buying — in spite of ongoing inflation.

Worth Reading

Struggling to Be Healthy

At a time when 1 in 6 Americans is obese and 10% of the U.S. population experienced food insecurity in 2020, the Netherlands-based Access to Nutrition Foundation ranked the 11 biggest food companies by their ability “to deliver healthy, affordable food and beverages enabling consumers to reach healthier diets and to prevent hunger.” Triple Pundit’s Leon Kaye offered some harsh criticism: “When it comes to nutrition, these 11 companies are more in the midst of a race to the bottom rather than doing their part to bolster public health here in the U.S.”

Medicine on the Menu

A Tufts University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that prescribing medically tailored meals could save $13.6 billion annually across roughly 6.3 million Americans with diet-related diseases. Food is Medicine Coalition Executive Director Alissa Wassung commented, “It is incredible to see this rigorous research validate the value proposition of medically tailored meals.” Can tailored meal plans help us to fit in tailored clothes again?

Curd-esy of Culver’s

As Midwestern stalwart Culver’s learned, you have to be careful what you joke about. After the chain published an April Fools’ Day joke of a burger-sized cheese curd on a bun, the petitions started pouring in. The Green Bay Press Gazette highlighted the menu item’s single-day success in 2021, and where to find one during the month of October. On second thought, the tailored meal plan can wait.

That’s the Way the Cookie Digitizes

Scientists from Osaka University have devised a novel way to provide package-free labeling information in food items: 3D printing. In Food Manufacturing, study author Yamato Miyatake explained, “We realized that the insides of edible objects such as cookies could be printed to contain patterns of empty spaces so that, when you shine a light from behind the cookie, a QR code becomes visible and can be read using a cellphone.”

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Friday by Noon:

Scrutiny Week

Leading voices in food production put some important issues under the microscope this week:

  • Searching for a possible end to rising food prices
  • Examining what makes an “independent contractor”
  • Clarifying “healthy” and regulatory effectiveness

Price Moderation in Sight?

Abundant speculation about rising food costs — nationally and internationally — continued to draw attention. The past few years have provided an ideal climate for prices to skyrocket, but indicators suggest a slowdown may be within reach.

  • PBS Economics correspondent Paul Solman outlined the major factors behind the dramatic 13.5% increase in U.S. food costs over the past year. Supply chain, drought, the Ukraine war and transportation are some of the forces causing the biggest price hike in 43 years.
  • The International Monetary Fund agreed that economic, geopolitical and ecological volatility have conspired to raise costs globally, but anticipated that inflation will peak late this year (The Scoop).
  • Meanwhile, Reuters reported that The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization world food price index has been falling for six months.
  • Supermarket News summarized an Advantage Sales report that manufacturers and retailers are balancing pressure to raise prices against shopper sensitivity.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick Thomas interviewed ConAgra CEO Sean Connolly who anticipated U.S. food inflation to level off: “We are seeing some commodities moderating; we are seeing some actually improve.”
  • Thanks to avian flu, expect to pay more for your Thanksgiving turkey this year. Feedstuffs outlined American Farm Bureau Federation’s projected record prices. We predict another Detroit loss in the afternoon.

When a Gig Isn’t

On October 11, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a rule that clarifies when employers can treat a worker as an independent contractor instead of as an employee. The deciding factors would include the ability to set hours, permanence of employment, ability to profit, skill required and whether the work is “integral to the employer’s business.” Employers do not provide benefits, minimum wage or overtime for contractors.

  • Bloomberg provided context: the rule replaces a more lenient Trump-era rule that the Biden administration unsuccessfully attempted to rescind in March.
  • Winsight Grocery Business reported that the rule will likely undermine the business model used by grocery delivery apps like Instacart and DoorDash.
  • PBS NewsHour cited Uber representatives as unconcerned about the change.
  • The National Retail Federation opposed the rule, saying it “will only foster massive confusion, endless litigation, reduced innovation and fewer opportunities.”
  • The Wall Street Journal editorial board described the rule as a step to increase unionization.
  • Meanwhile, thousands of California gig workers — typically classified as contractors — rallied at Uber headquarters to pursue unionization (CBS News). Existing worker groups, like Fight for $15, amplified the message.
  • On October 12, Instacart settled with the city of San Diego, agreeing to pay $46.5 million for misclassifying its workers as contractors between 2015 and 2020 (Supermarket News).

Auditing the Auditors

Initially overshadowed by the hoopla of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, two major updates have progressed at the FDA.

  • The same day as the conference, September 28, the FDA revised its guidelines for using the word “healthy” in food descriptions.
  • The FDA unveiled more details at the Consumer Federation of America’s annual food policy conference on October 12. Agri-Pulse summarized FDA Commissioner Robert Califf’s goals to develop regulations for front-of-pack labeling and new longer-term targets for reducing sodium in foods.
  • Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle dissected the rules as well as the proposed graphics that would label food “healthy,” noting, “These proposed rules would exclude almost all cereals marketed to children.” Here’s where we feign surprise.
  • In another ongoing thread, the Reagan-Udall Foundation held a public meeting to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the FDA’s human foods programs, publishing the findings on October 7.
  • The FDA’s mishandling of the infant formula crisis, which sparked the review, continues to be a sticking point. In a letter to Commissioner Califf, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) threatened to withhold funding for an agency that “does not take accountability seriously.”
  • The Consumer Federation of America worried that FDA’s struggles stem from a vicious cycle: “FDA’s effectiveness in safeguarding the food supply has been hampered by a lack of resources, a lack of transparency, and a lack of willingness to use the agency’s full authority to protect public health.”
  • An unusual coalition that includes environmental activists, public health organizations and CPG industry groups suggested organizational reforms to centralize the food programs.

Worth Reading

Pork’s Day in Court

On October 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the National Pork Producers’ (NPPC) challenge of a California law that mandates space requirements for pregnant sows. Out-of-state hog farmers using systems that do not meet California’s requirements would not be able to sell products in California, a state with 13% of the U.S. population. The Des Moines Register’s Donnelle Eller summarized the proceedings from the hearing as well as a press event held by NPPC immediately afterward.

Teaming Up on Walmart

On October 14, supermarket leaders Albertsons and Kroger announced a “definitive agreement” to proceed with their so-called mega-merger “under which the companies will merge two complementary organizations with iconic brands and deep roots in their local communities to establish a national footprint and unite around Kroger’s Purpose to Feed the Human Spirit.” The Wall Street Journal’s Cara Lombardo and Jaewon Kang’s October 13 article outlined the specifics of the deal, including all of the anti-competitive and regulatory hurdles that must happen for this deal to proceed, comparing it to the 2015 blocked merger between Sysco and U.S. Foods. Additionally, Meatingplace covered how the chains would need to divest 450 of their collective 5,000 outlets to pave the way for approval. So mega …

Fastest Food

Consultant group Intouch Insight published its annual ranking of the quickest drive-thru service among the top 10 fast-food brands. While speed of service has thankfully decreased from last year, it remains more than a minute longer than average pre-pandemic service time. The report covers all kinds of findings, including order accuracy and the effectiveness of different tactics. Is it fair that Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are listed separately?

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October 7, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Nasty Q3 Weather. Again.

Uncertainty prevails after Hurricane Ian ripped across the southeastern U.S. last week. The storm’s timing reinforced the ongoing trend of the weather being the biggest story in The Intel Distillery’s rankings almost every third quarter over the past 10 years. In addition, we follow the money in some key categories while the U.S. high court takes on a few landmark cases relevant to agriculture.

  • Hurricane Ian tore through Florida farmland.
  • Brands invested in water and breakfast, not meat alternatives.
  • The Supreme Court’s fall docket addressed agriculture.

“There is no greater motivation for getting your crop harvested than a hurricane.”

Kevin Matthews, farmer in North Carolina (Successful Farming)

Incalculable Ian

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on September 28, leaving a path of destruction across the state. Just two days later, Ian hit South Carolina and worked its way inland. While the full extent of damage across the Southeast is still being calculated, Florida garnered the most attention.

  • Nation’s Restaurant News verified Hurricane Ian’s severity with the unofficial Waffle House Index, finding that 40 stores closed in Florida. The outlet also addressed how other restaurant chains are recovering from storm damage and power outages.
  • Politico reported that Ian affected the bulk of Florida’s citrus groves, with as many as 400,000 acres — of 450,000 in the state — facing losses.
  • On Monday, Fresh Fruit Portal clarified that most orange trees still stood, but farms saw as much as 80% of this year’s crop drop prematurely.
  • The storm also interrupted planting for a variety of other fruits and vegetables, Bloomberg noted. Also at risk: 400,000 bee colonies.
  • Farms in the Carolinas seemed to fare better, but AgFax tracked some cotton crop losses.
  • Relief efforts flowed in from many angles, including the USDA, Publix, Walmart, meat processors, Campbell’s, World Central Kitchen and local volunteers.

Going With the Flow

Breakfast is up, fake meat continues to lose steam and home grocery delivery is going high-tech. Here are some of the most interesting business developments as we follow the flow of money to catch the trends:

  • Progressive Grocer covered Walmart’s first cutting-edge million-square-foot fulfillment center that opened in the Chicago area: “These four next-gen fulfillment centers, once operational, will be able to provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping.”
  • Reuters’ Tom Polansek reported on JBS ceasing operations of its Planterra alternative meat business. The article quoted Gary Stibel of the New England Consulting Group: “Eventually it will be a good business for a few players. Today, it is a sinkhole for many folks that are throwing good money after bad, chasing too little demand with way too much supply.”
  • NPD Group’s latest report indicated increased breakfast traffic in foodservice: “Breakfast at restaurants was adversely affected in the early stages of the pandemic, and it’s recovering now that more consumers have returned to more out-of-the-home routines.”
  • Wall Street Journal reporter Spencer Jakab described how breakfast is the “final frontier” for quick-service restaurants and how chains like Wendy’s are trying hard to get a piece of the proverbial pancake.
  • Liquid Death, a canned water brand, was recently valued at $700 million after an additional round of funding. Bloomberg concluded, “Sometimes water tastes better when it’s in a cool-looking can.”

Highest Court of the Land. And Water.

The Supreme Court of the United States opened its fall session on October 3 with what TIME called a “blockbuster” term. Two ag-relevant cases are on the docket: addressing waterway management and state animal care regulation.

  • Sackett v. EPA: This case was prompted by an Idaho couple who wanted to fill in wetlands to build a home. The permitting process was stymied by the Clean Water Act (CWA) which protects certain wetlands as tributaries to navigable waters.
  • Over the past decade, the Obama, Trump and now Biden administrations have tried to define what the CWA regulates. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case will potentially shape EPA’s rule-making, implementation, and breadth of its authority under the act. E&E News summarized this week’s oral arguments as the nation’s agricultural community listened closely.
  • Ross v. NPPC: The National Pork Producers Council is fighting California’s Proposition 12, which would require producers outside the state to change how they raise hogs in order to sell pork in California. The case will be argued before the high court on October 11.
  • The case revolves around the constitutionality of a 2018 California referendum that could potentially disrupt pork production nationwide. The Hill explained, “The problem is that California imports 99.87% of its pork — virtually none is raised in the state. Anyone caught selling ‘illegal bacon’ in California will be subject to a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in state prison. Because the California market is huge, pork producers in other states must alter their feedlots and pens to meet the California rules. Otherwise, California retailers won’t risk selling illegal ham sandwiches.”

Worth Reading

Brand Disloyalty

Food Business News shared the results of a Morning Consult study that members of Gen Z view brands less favorably. While the study was broader than food, about half of the brands in the top 40 were food brands — M&M, Doritos, KitKat and Oreo are all in the top 10.

Foodie Towns for the Thrifty

What’s the best foodie city in America? Depends on how you count, according to WalletHub, which issued a comprehensive ranking of U.S. cities. “To determine the best and cheapest foodie scenes, WalletHub compared more than 180 U.S. cities across 29 key indicators of foodie-friendliness. Our data set ranges from cost of groceries to affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants to food festivals per capita.” Admittedly, we struggle to reconcile the domination of coastal cities in the rankings with “cheap.”

Mmmm Forbidden Doughnut

Bon Appétit brought attention to an MIT study that inadvertently found a set of neurons that specifically fire in response to images of food. Article author Ali Francis quipped, “Maybe we were born with this shortcut to visually identify crispy french fries, drippy soft serve, and honking burgers as foods. Or maybe our brains have developed in step with #foodie culture.” For what it’s worth, MIT intentionally studied the health effects of “food porn” consumption back in 2016.

Memories of Bygone Meals

Scientists from Lancaster University pursued “technology that can help re-construct memories using the flavour and scent of different foods in very compact shapes.” While the “3D printed flavour-based cues” don’t exactly sound like food, the tech helped elderly subjects recall food memories in a way that has promising applications for Alzheimer’s disease. We imagine bacon and apple pie top the list.

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September 30, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Pros and Conferences

White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

We’ve dedicated today’s newsletter to providing highlights from this important, if relatively haphazard, four-hour conference.

On September 28, the White House hosted this confluence of government, corporate and celebrity leaders, and generated policy announcements and criticism in equal measure.

Much-anticipated yet sparingly planned, Wednesday’s conference showcased many important figures in U.S. food policy. The event featured speeches from President Biden, leaders from the USDA, HHS, members of Congress and chef José Andrés. The administration announced a commitment to ending U.S. hunger (which the USDA estimates at 10%) and boosting nutrition by 2030, with support from corporate and organizational donations, amid high food prices and uncertain times.

  • For a quick summary, check out Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle’s summary; it breaks out common themes and outlines speeches.
  • On her FoodFix blog, Helena Bottemiller Evich filed a detailed report this morning, saying: “Food gets its moment in Washington.”
  • Politico outlined the Biden administration’s biggest obstacles: high food prices, a lingering infant formula debacle and uncertainty about which party will be driving Congress next year.
  • NPR posted a synopsis of the strategy: “The strategy put forward by the administration includes expanding nutrition assistance programs and launching more healthcare programs to cover medically tailored meals.”
  • Haphazard coordination of the event undermined otherwise bipartisan support. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.) commented: “From unanswered inquiries to the exclusion of many Republican and Democrat policymakers and relevant stakeholders, it’s unfortunate today’s conference has seemingly deteriorated into a handpicked political gathering whose sole purpose is to perpetuate partisan ideologies.”
  • One group that the White House clearly included was the food industry. FMI, the Food Industry Association, led a group of 17 industry groups that committed to support the goals of the conference.
  • You can watch the conference on the White House’s YouTube channel.

“Our bold goals require a whole-of-government approach and a whole-of-society effort. No child should go to bed hungry, no parent should die of a disease that could be prevented. When we’re at our best, we think big.”

President Biden (The White House)

Hunger: Partnering Up for Food Security

Fighting food insecurity proved to be the most popular topic, drawing numerous partnerships and commitments from corporations, industry organizations and public interest groups.

  • Chef José Andrés offered insights from his work as leader of anti-hunger group World Central Kitchen: “To tackle the issues we have to be forceful [and think] in a new way to make sure that we keep investing in the programs that they’ve shown work. … One plate of food at a time, we can build a better America.”
  • Food Safety News reported on the United States’ slipping rankings in terms of national food security. The U.S. ranked #3 for quality and safety, but slipped to 13th place when measures like affordability and accessibility factored in.
  • The White House announced a total of $8 billion in private-sector commitments to fight hunger. Meatingplace tracked protein leaders Smithfield and Tyson’s contributions while Food Dive kept a running list of all commitments.
  • Agri-Pulse summarized some of the executive actions along with some activity that will require legislative approval. The article also listed organizations making commitments such as FoodCorps, food distributor Sysco and the National Restaurant Association.
  • Individual companies, like Albertsons, established new goals for reducing hunger through donations, easing access to groceries through delivery services and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps).
  • National Grocers Association, which represents independents, emphasized the importance of reaching “underserved rural and urban populations,” promoting the use of food stamps for online purchases.

“Food insecurity is ubiquitous everywhere, in all of our clinics, all of our practices. We’re seeing it in every county around the country. So, it’s important that we do this.”

Kofi Essel, pediatrician, Children’s National Hospital (Civil Eats)

Nutrition: Redefining Healthy

On the nutrition side of things, labeling and school meals stirred the most attention. Regulators, industry groups and individual companies all committed to enacting change.

  • The morning of the event, the FDA proposed an update to which foods can be labeled “healthy,” with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra explaining it as a move to “help educate more Americans.”
  • The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance — composed of Danone, Mars, Nestlé and Unilever — welcomed the rule’s adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The alliance also cautioned that the label should “extend beyond a single icon or symbol.”
  • Dr. Peter Lurie, president of Center for Science in the Public Interest, cheered plans to implement policies like front-of-package nutrition labeling and sodium-reduction targets for how they will lower barriers to healthier food choices.
  • The International Fresh Produce Association highlighted its Fruit and Vegetable Moonshot as a blueprint for nutrition policy reform.
  • Former NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle noted that the conference coincides with a need to reauthorize funds for school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
  • After President Biden called for an expansion of free school meals, The Wall Street Journal reported that the move faced opposition from Republican members of Congress out of concern for “providing free meals to the children of doctors, lawyers and lobbyists.”
  • National Restaurant Association members committed to the Kids LiveWell initiative, which promotes healthier menu options for children.

“Nutrition is health, and food is medicine.”

Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary (YouTube)

Health: The End Goal

The health outcomes of food policies was the least-addressed portion of the agenda. Despite this, the topic proved no less important.

  • In The Hill, Harvard professors Frank Hu, Walter Willett and Lilian Cheung examined the link between diet and obesity: “The costs ripple through our health care system, our labor market, our economy and even our national security.”
  • American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown and Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah partnered on a $250 million Food is Medicine Research Initiative.
  • Scott Faber of activist organization Environmental Working Group applauded the administration for plans to revise meal plans at federal facilities: “Everyone has a role to play if we want to address diet-related disease, and the federal government should lead by example.”

Worth Reading

Ian, Not a Minor Threat

Food Business News previewed Hurricane Ian’s impact on food production warning that it’s still “early days” as Floridians scramble to regain power, establish cell signals and assess damage. Author Lisa Berry looked at the baking industry, reporting that Campbell’s snacks and Ardent Mills facilities south of Tampa are running somewhat efficiently. Reuters reporter Tom Polansek described how some ranchers are scrambling to find their cattle and orange juice prices are surging. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack assured, “USDA is ready to deliver all the resources we have available to us to assist those in need.” The agency also laid out food safety guidelines for residents.

Too ‘Woke’ or No Market?

No growth from 2021 to 2022. That’s not a slowdown in alternative protein sales, that’s a dead stop. Food Navigator outlined a Deloitte report that placed the blame for this category’s woes on declining novelty and appeal, the impact of inflation, and questions on the health and environmental benefits. From Deloitte’s summary: “The half (53%) who aren’t buying it may not be easily reachable, partly due to cultural resistance to a product some view as ‘woke.’ Others, many of whom say they want to reduce their red meat consumption, still aren’t interested in [plant-based] meat.”

Showing Other Sandwiches the Way

The Takeout posted an interesting narrative of Jersey Mike’s, the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the U.S. Referencing other summary articles from QSR and Entrepreneur, author Brianna Wellen distilled why Mike’s is tops for subs: “What makes the sandwiches stand out is a crisp freshness, highlighted by ordering a sandwich “Mike’s Way.” We agree, Brianna.

So Nice They Named It Twice

In Modern Farmer, bartender-botanist Danny Childs profiled the pawpaw, a fruit (a berry, to be precise) native to the Garden State of New Jersey. “Once they’ve had their first taste, I see their eyes light up as they try to wrap their heads around how an ingredient that tastes so tropical — with flavors that are like a cross between mango, banana and pineapple — could possibly grow here.”

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September 23, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Over-the-counter Recipes

With Farm Safety Week overlapping Climate Week, food producers had lots to discuss all along the supply chain:

  • Conversations on climate reinforced familiar themes.
  • Competition for grocery delivery heated up.
  • TikTok promoted both smart and stupid trends.

Climate Convos

September 19-22 marked Climate Week 2022, spurring conversations around food and beverage production practices. The New York City-based event boasted corporate sponsorships from Unilever, PepsiCo, Oatly, Impossible Foods, AB InBev and Indigo Ag.

  • U.N. representatives estimated “top farming and food firms could lose up to a quarter of their value by 2030.” The researchers projected that, without changes in GHG emissions, shareholders stand to lose $150 billion by 2030 (Reuters).
  • Environmental Defense Fund suggested that agricultural emissions could drop by 23% by 2030 through a combination of improvements to cattle feed, manure storage, fertilizer use and preventing land conversion.
  • Tech-oriented environmentalist group The Breakthrough Institute called for more agriculture research funding: “If DC can fund General Motors, it can also fund alternative meat and other environmental breakthroughs.”
  • Last week’s USDA Climate-Smart Commodities pilot program proved to be one such investment. The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance — a supergroup of ag interests — welcomed the investment for “[recognizing] differences between regions, farm size and forest type, and diversity of production in the United States.”
  • The program provided grants to groups focusing on a wide range of issues, including soil health, financial incentives, fresh produce, organic foods and potato production.
  • Activist group Friends of the Earth objected that much of the funding will go to large companies with established R&D departments: “These grants fly in the face of President Biden’s executive order calling for USDA to combat consolidation in agriculture.”

Grocery Gettin’

The last mile for getting groceries into homes remains up for grabs. Giants like Amazon have faced off against foodservice delivery specialists to gain that business while the retailers themselves have started their own delivery systems. All of these compete against the established American grocery shopping experience. Recently, third-party delivery services have gained ground.

  • Supermarket News shared recent research that delivery has grown faster than pickup: “Delivery now owns 48.3% of all digital grocery fulfillment, against pickup’s 51.7%. Meanwhile, after declining 2.3% from June to July, third-party platforms’ share of overall digital grocery sales rebounded by 21.2%.”
  • On September 19, Instacart unveiled its Connected Stores solutions bundle, which blends online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. We’re confused too.
  • The next day, DoorDash announced a big expansion beyond foodservice, “introducing on-demand grocery, convenience store, alcohol delivery, and more on the DoorDash app” with some major food retailers.
  • Grocery technology firm Invafresh polled 100 retail decision-makers about what they see as the biggest threats. Despite some mention of competition from the likes of Amazon, inflation and pandemic-rooted supply chain disruptions remain high on the list.
  • Progressive Grocer profiled Ahold Delhaize’s success, which is based on omnichannel momentum, private brands and sustainability commitments. The article could not confirm rumors about a merger with rival Albertsons.
  • The New York Times explained why retail trailblazer Wegmans has discontinued its self-checkout app, citing theft as a major reason.
  • Despite rumors of candy shortages, Bloomberg reported National Retail Federation data that U.S. consumers will spend a record $10.6 billion on Halloween.
  • Looking further ahead to the holiday season’s retail labor situation, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart will hire fewer seasonal workers, pegging the estimate at 40,000 workers to complement its 1.7 million employees. That’s a lot of blue vests.

The Nighttime Sniffling, Sneezing, Coughing, Aching, Stuffy-head Chicken

Pew Research Center on September 20 published research that said about half of Americans use social media to get the news. Over the past year, TikTok experienced the most explosive growth, compared with the other platforms. And there’s food and nutrition advice aplenty on the platform. But it’s not all helpful food hacks. Pew’s research coincided with lots of coverage of a viral recipe involving cooking chicken in cough medicine.

  • NPR’s Matt Adams summarized the #sleepychicken TikTok trend that involves cooking chicken breasts in NyQuil, and how the FDA sternly warned it is “a recipe for danger.”
  • TechCrunch insisted this was a meme posted by a troll at least five years ago on 4chan.
  • Eater chronicled the popularity of the butter board, another food trend that remained obscure since 2017. It’s basically a layer of softened butter with herbs and such on top. For what it’s worth, butter also tastes amazing unadorned.
  • Apparently using bread to scoop the butter proved difficult for some. TikTok recipe developer Justine Doiron, who kicked off the craze, had to clarify: “YOU CAN USE A KNIFE JUST LIKE A CHEESEBOARD CALM YOURSELVES.”

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Two major grocery store chains committed to addressing hunger in their communities this week. Publix donated $5.65 million to 300+ Feeding America food banks throughout the southeastern U.S. The grocer committed to addressing the issue even further, pledging that 6,300 of its associates will partner with 205 other local nonprofits to address food insecurity as part of its annual Publix Serves Week.

Meanwhile, Albertsons partnered with Kellogg to fight childhood hunger by donating to No Kid Hungry. The retailer’s E.A.T. program and its foundation’s Nourishing Neighbor’s program will receive half of a $100,000 pledge from Kellogg to explicitly target childhood hunger at breakfast. The chain has also been accepting donations at their checkout counters throughout the month of September.

Worth Reading

Storm Surge

As hurricane season begins, humanitarian groups already have their work cut out for them. The Specialty Foods Association highlighted efforts from Mercy Chefs, World Central Kitchen and Global Giving after Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico on September 19.

Don’t Mind the Maggots

In response to a global fertilizer shortage brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we’ve seen many reports of farmers getting creative. The Associated Press reported on developments in Uganda, a regional food basket for Africa, and the country’s burgeoning maggot trade: “The maggots are the larvae of the black soldier fly, an insect whose digestive system effectively turns food waste into organic fertilizer.”

Farm Safety Week

High Plains Journal described the purpose of Farm Safety Week: “Dedicating a week to saving the lives and limbs of farmers and their employees, which oftentimes are their own children, is a must. Danger lurks and at the blink of an eye [and] a routine day can turn into a serious injury or fatality.” The Biden Administration provided $65 million to “minimize the risks” of such injuries.

Older, But None the Wiser

Researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University analyzed how well people stick to a balanced diet, finding a modest 1.5% improvement worldwide in the past 30 years. Lead author Victoria Miller explained, “overall improvements in dietary quality were offset by increased intake of unhealthy components.”

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