January 25, 2022
Quarterly Report:

Gearing Up for Global Challenges | Top Ten Topics – 2021 in Review

In a year when administrations changed in the United States, the food industry faced global problems. The causes and effects of climate change managed to compete with the pandemic for importance in 2021. Highlights from the leading voices in food and agriculture production include:

  • Policymakers and the private sector pursued stewardship practices to minimize food production’s impact on the planet.
  • Extreme weather events stymied crop growth and disrupted food distribution.
  • Vaccines prompted conversations about worker safety; meanwhile, worker shortages further complicated supply chain problems.
2021 Top Ten Topics

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January 21, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Vax On, Vax Off

We tracked several policy moves this week that will have big implications for food, beverage and agriculture companies:

  • The Supreme Court weighed in on vaccine mandates.
  • States regulated everything from labor unions to leftovers.
  • More brands defined their own uniquely “good” practices.

Un-mandated

On January 13, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for private employers with 100 or more employees. In the unsigned opinion, the court ruled OSHA exceeded its statutory authority, noting that never before has OSHA or Congress imposed such a mandate.

  • In a statement, President Biden expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision: “It is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees.”
  • The National Retail Federation called the ruling “a significant victory for employers,” stating that “OSHA clearly exceeded its authority promulgating its original mandate under emergency powers without giving stakeholders the benefit of a rulemaking process.” (Promulgate: to promote or make widely known an idea or cause.)
  • Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, applauded the decision that “will help ensure the food industry is able to continue meeting our customers’ needs as efficiently and effectively as possible amid the ongoing supply chain and labor disruptions.”
  • Service Employees International Union accused the Supreme Court of bowing to corporate pressure.
  • The New York Times reported that “businesses are whipsawed again,” noting that “some companies with vaccine mandates said keeping those policies might become more difficult in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
  • Following the ruling, Starbucks sent a memo to employees that it will no longer require U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 (The Associated Press).
  • Nation’s Restaurant News spoke to labor attorney David Miller, who warned: “Employers should be wary of the stay even though Biden’s law was overturned because it will come down to enforcement on a local level.”

On the State Side

We generally focus on national policies because their wide effects generate more consistent conversations. But gridlock on Capitol Hill stirred states to seize the moment and make their own rules. In order of admittance to the union:

  • On January 19, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) praised the bill as “a science-based, narrowly tailored approach” because it protects pollinators while allowing farms to continue using a valuable tool.
  • New York became the sixth state to require large companies to donate or recycle food waste, reported EcoWatch. The rule, which took effect January 1, does not overrule an existing law in New York City.
  • Civil Eats shared Capital & Main coverage of the first farmworkers union in New York. Meanwhile, Maine Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill allowing the state’s farmworkers the right to organize (CBS).
  • In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom was generous with funds for food production in a proposed budget. Agri-Pulse covered plans around drought mitigation, Farm Progress highlighted use of cattle grazing to deter wildfires and NRDC welcomed funds for school meals.
  • In a January 10 address, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey requested $1 billion to invest in water resources over the next three years (Western Growers). Environmental Defense Fund challenged state lawmakers to heed the call.
  • On a lighter note, Instacart mapped each state’s favorite hot sauce. Our takeaway: Putting a state in your brand name guarantees it won’t sell well there.

The Goods

Our fascination with the dynamic definition of what makes food “good” continues this week.

  • In its 2022 Power List, Nation’s Restaurant News profiled 50 leaders shaping the future of foodservice. These influential voices define good with everything from helping workers clear criminal records to teaching them financial literacy to “making rice cool again.”
  • In a podcast interview, Yum! Brands COO Tracy Skeans explained the company’s recipe for Growth and Good takes a customer-centric approach: “As the consumer changes, we want to make sure that we are relevant and more focused on having cravable [sic] food, the trends that the consumers want, being able to customize what you want.” (Triple Pundit)
  • On the other end, CNN reported the Chinese government is rebuking Yum!’s KFC restaurants for food waste: Customers are dumping KFC meals in a frenzy to collect plastic promotional toys. “A few people have even bought more than 100 meals at once, spending almost 10,500 yuan (about $1,650) in an attempt to collect the full line.”
  • Nestlé announced it would remove 25% of the added sugar from the venerable Carnation Breakfast Essentials products while retailer Meijer joined the cohort of retailers halving their carbon emissions.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Volcanic Protein

In its series documenting trends that will shape food in 2022, Food Dive’s Megan Poinski dove deep into Nature’s Fynd, an innovative company that produces a versatile protein food by fermenting a volcanic fungus commonly found at Yellowstone National Park. Poinski interviewed chief marketing officer Karuna Rawal, who said that interest in these fermented proteins has increased by double digits during the pandemic.

Private, Not Generic

The Wall Street Journal’s Jane Black explored how private-label foods are gaining acceptance as retailers attempt to differentiate themselves and more food shopping is done online. The article addressed efforts from trendy startups like Thrive Markets to established national chains like Target and Whole Foods that are all upping their private label game.

God Save the Ketchup

U.K. tabloid The Sun shared news that the royal family will be entering the condiment market, launching a “tomato” and “brown” sauce (equivalent to ketchup and steak sauce stateside) to rival market leader HP (owned by Heinz). Author Rob Pattinson appeared concerned about the high MSRP: “It will set you back an eye-watering [$9.50] for a [10 oz.] bottle, compared to [82¢] for Sainsbury’s [16 oz.] version.”

Cognac Is Everywhere

Reuters reported that worldwide cognac sales surged a whopping 31% in 2021. After a long decline in sales, the U.S. alone imported 115 million bottles of the brandy, which is produced in the Cognac region of France. This represents the rare case in which a recovery can be categorized by increased consumption.

Crawmoms

The Guardian writer Kate Connolly delved into the rapid spread of an all-female variety of crayfish that reproduces by cloning itself. The unique breed of decapod has sparked curiosity in academic circles as it spreads from continent to continent, with one German startup eventually realizing: “These crayfish have no natural predators … the more of it we eat the better.”

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January 14, 2022
Friday by Noon:

Contrarian Centenarians

New-year energy continued to drive discussions this week, prompting:

  • Healthy conversations about what’s healthy.
  • Speculation around rising food costs.
  • Commentary on worker shortages, strikes and union activity.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964)

No Time to Diet

Health was top of mind with many influential writers and organizations. However, much of the discussion sought to debunk January’s conventional reputation.

  • Health concerns punctuated the International Food Information Council’s report on 2022 food trends: “Consumers are proactively looking for positive food attributes like whole grains and fiber, and they’re exploring immune health more so than previously.”
  • Instead of starting a new diet, New York Times author David Leonhardt suggested that readers “audit” their current diet choices in January: “The key issue is finding a sustainable way to eat healthily, in terms of both quality and quantity. Very few New Year’s resolution diets are sustainable.”
  • Eater interviewed registered dietitian Christy Harrison, who explained how to survive January’s tough climate of diet messaging and “the insidious ways that the diet industry is seeking to turn decades-old diet plans into ‘new and improved’ programs that allegedly promote ‘wellness.'”
  • In The Washington Post, registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom explained that detox juices are unnecessary.
  • Challenging conventional wisdom that kids need different types of foods than adults, the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) could not be more clear: “There is no difference between healthful foods for adults and for children aged 2 and older, except for age-appropriate adjustments in texture and portion size.”
  • Food & Wine compiled a list of several contrarian centenarians whose diets included consistent doses of things like gin-soaked raisins and Big Macs. Yes, it’s as inspirational as it sounds.

Price Creep

The ripple effects of disrupted supply chains have compounded over the past two years and continue to inflate the costs of food production. As everything from frankfurters to fertilizer becomes more expensive, fast food does, too.

  • As non-food inflation reached 40-year highs, the most recent food inflation figures showed a 6.3% price rise in December compared with last year (The Washington Post).
  • Food Manufacturing reported on USDA figures that show butter prices have risen by 40% year-over-year.
  • Bloomberg tracked a 60% increase in romaine prices, but failed to factor in expansive recalls of Fresh Express and Simple Truth branded leafy greens.
  • In a January 13 investor call, Conagra Brands explained that inflation has outpaced earlier predictions. Food Business News quoted President and CEO Sean Connolly on a related prediction: “Millennial and Gen Z consumers … will remain more value-focused than their predecessors.”
  • While some restaurants switched to cheaper cuts of meat, Domino’s Pizza opted to instead limit value offers and reduce chicken wing orders from 10 to eight pieces, according to Restaurant Business writer Jonathan Maze.
  • On the farm, rising costs are hitting farmers’ bottom lines. A Purdue University survey found that 39% of respondents had “difficulty purchasing crop inputs.” Texas A&M estimated that, on average, fertilizer will cost between $64,000 and $128,000 more per farm in 2022.

Worker Woes

Exasperating the existing labor shortage, the omicron variant’s quick spread among U.S. workers is disrupting everything from meat plant production to retail store hours. Weary workers are being pushed to their limits, reinforcing moves to unionize and strike.

  • As COVID-19 infections spread through the workforce, meat plants were forced to slow production at a time when demand is booming. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that “a sustained period of lower production could further increase high meat prices.”
  • The spread of the omicron variant at the nation’s busiest port complex hindered efforts to clear a large backlog of container ships. The Wall Street Journal said “about 800 dockworkers — roughly 1 in 10 of the daily workforce at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — were unavailable for COVID-related reasons as of Monday.”
  • The New York Times reported retail workers are calling out sick after contracting COVID-19 or being exposed to someone who had it while at work. Workers say that with so many out sick, morale is low and consumers are experiencing longer checkout lines and empty store shelves.
  • In Denver, more than 8,000 Kroger supermarket workers went on strike this week for better wages after negotiations stalled (Reuters). To remain open, the stores hired temporary staff and promoted online ordering.
  • The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) scheduled a second unionization vote for workers at an Alabama Amazon facility (CNBC). NLRB found that Amazon violated a labor law during the first election held last year, when the workers voted against unionizing.
  • The Counter revealed that, since a Buffalo-area store voted to unionize last month, Starbucks is experiencing “a swelling wave of labor activism.” In the past week, four additional stores across the U.S. have filed for union elections with NLRB.
  • On January 13, the Supreme Court overturned the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employees at large companies (CNBC).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Defining a Good Cap

Packaging Insights reported that global packaging leader Tetra Pak partnered with French creamery Elvir to develop the industry’s first carton cap made from recycled materials. “As a signatory of the UN Global Compact and in support of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, responsible sourcing is a strategic objective for our organization,” Tetra Pak’s Davide Braghiroli told the publication.

Yeah, but How Do You Pronounce It?

After years of battling European cheese authorities over nomenclature, a U.S. District Court ruled that gruyere cheese made in the United States can be called as such (Feedstuffs). The Consortium for Common Food Names (it’s a thing) and U.S. dairy groups called this a “vital precedent” in the ongoing battle over food names, paving the way perhaps for parmesan, bologna or chateau. On top of this, The Association for Dressings & Sauces (also a thing) petitioned the FDA to revoke the standard of identity for French dressing — and won.

Football Field to Fork

Frito Lay is commemorating its return to Super Bowl advertising by releasing one-of-a-kind, limited-edition Lay’s potato chips. According to Lay’s, the Golden Grounds chips were made from potatoes grown in fields containing dirt collected from 29 different NFL fields. Fun fact: only 16 NFL stadiums have real grass.

Swimming in Data

Our World in Data presented fascinating data visualizations on the global fishing industry. The accompanying article suggests that, over the past half century, the world population has doubled and eats twice the fish per capita. In response, the global fishing industry has quadrupled in size: taxing resources, forcing aquaculture to eclipse traditional fisheries and disrupting many species.

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January 7, 2022
Friday by Noon:

BE the Change

As we crossed into 2022, much-discussed policies finally took effect. All the while, we kept track of the evolving definition of what makes food “good.”

  • President Biden attempted to mitigate meat industry consolidation and rising prices.
  • Labeling for bioengineered food is now the law.
  • Brands turned up the volume on goodness.

Let it BE

As of January 1, food makers must disclose whether products are made with detectable levels of “bioengineered” ingredients (including genetically engineered, genetically modified and gene edited varieties). It may seem like small potatoes now, but the rule is the culmination of the biggest food fight of the past decade. After years of activist campaigns, the national law only came about in July 2015 to avoid Vermont kicking off a patchwork of state labeling laws.

  • Laura Reiley of The Washington Post provided a thorough synopsis of the history and particulars.
  • The law still faces opposition. Gregory Jaffe of Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized the use of the term “bioengineered” when most consumers more readily recognize GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
  • Leaders from Natural Grocers and activist group Center for Food Safety reiterated complaints in a lawsuit that alleges the use of QR codes instead of on-package labels is “a regulatory scam … trying to keep us in the dark.”
  • Meanwhile, a Cornell University study concluded that in Vermont, mandatory labels did not make a significant difference in sales volume compared with voluntary Non-GMO Project Verified labels.
  • In Modern Farmer, lead researcher Aaron Adalja asked: “Do [mandatory labels] actually serve a purpose? … What sort of message are we sending if the government slaps a label on a product when it has nothing to do with safety or health?”
  • Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich summed up the net result in a tweet: “GMO labeling is finally here & basically no one cares.”

Billion-dollar Beef

On January 3, the Biden administration announced it will invest $1 billion to support independent meat and poultry producers. They argued that consolidation is responsible for consumer price increases and suggested that more competition will lead to lower prices. Additionally, the USDA and Department of Justice released shared principles and commitments “to protect against unfair and anticompetitive practices.”

  • The White House readout explained “that just a small handful of companies control the majority of the markets for beef, pork, and poultry, enabling them to squeeze farmers and ranchers while also raising prices on consumers.”
  • Fortune profiled the big four — Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS and National Beef Packing — that “control 55% to 85% of the hog, cattle, and chicken markets,” predictably casting each with some negative light.
  • A USDA working paper found that just 17 pork processing plants accounted for 65% of the nation’s pork production in 2020. The paper also found that pork production rates decreased early in the pandemic, then recovered to match and even exceed 2019 levels.
  • Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, claimed this was “the third time in six months” that the Biden administration has “announced the same plans to spend $1 billion to fund government intervention in the market.”
  • The National Chicken Council (NCC) accused the Biden administration of “scapegoating” meat and poultry companies for inflation and rising prices. Mike Brown, NCC president, labeled the action plan as “a solution in search of a problem.”
  • Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, supported the action plan: “We must get to the bottom of why farmers and ranchers continue to receive low payments while families across America endure rising meat prices.”
  • The National Farmers Union welcomed the action plan and hoped “the administration’s renewed focus on boosting competition and reducing prices will force changes needed to create an even playing field.”

Finding the Goods

At Bader Rutter, we believe that the definition of “good” food is dynamic and has evolved significantly over recent years. We feel it’s important to track how influential brands define good food and how marketers share the message. The range of definitions of “good” is considerable; here are a few recent standouts:

  • Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle wrote about a United Nations installation in Rome that brought attention to the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many food producers model their own policies after this set of 17 SDGs that address hunger, poverty, employment and more.
  • Smithfield Foods got some positive ink for joining the USDA and EPA’s U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions by committing to cut its food loss and waste by 50% (Supermarket Perimeter) and for joining Farm Powered Strategic Alliance, “a collaborative movement to boost food waste reduction and recycling, and expand renewable energy production across America” (Feedstuffs).
  • Swiss Chocolatier Barry Callebaut proudly shared its “A List” status after being ranked by the Carbon Disclosure Project for transparency on deforestation.
  • Meatingplace summarized the philanthropic efforts of Triumph Foods, Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods, many of which involved feeding needy families during the holiday season.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News shared that Culver’s Thank You Farmers project donations surpassed $3.5 million since its creation in 2013.
  • Maker’s Mark took the award for stretching the limits of doing good: They offered to pay checked bag fees for holiday travelers if their bags included a bottle of the premium bourbon (Mashed).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Januaryisms

Right on cue, the new year brought no shortage of solutions to reverse the effects of holiday excesses. U.S. News published its annual review of diets and, to no one’s surprise, the Mediterranean Diet held the top spot. (We prefer scouring the bottom of the list to review the more colorful options like the “Modified Keto” and the “Dukan.”) Veganuary, a vegan UK nonprofit founded in 2014, worked with noteworthy brands like Kroger and Domino’s (Plant Based News). Finally, Popular Science questioned the positive long-term benefits of a “Dry January.”

Ham Sniffers

The Wall Street Journal explored the life of the Spanish calador, or sniffer, whose job is to act as quality control for an Iberian ham company during the massive rush for holiday hams. “A cadre of six sniffers whose job is to poke each pork loin in four specific places with probes made of cow bone and take evaluative whiffs.”

Clam Diggers

New York Times journalist Jamie Lowe closed out 2021 by offering advice on how to dig for clams. Basically, start with a permit and look for bubbles. Fact: clams feel the cold too: “When it’s colder, they bury themselves deeper, so it’s harder to dig them up. You can clam year-round … but because the mollusks are closer to the surface in the summer, that’s when most recreational clamming is done.” Yes, “clam” is apparently a verb too.

She Thinks My Tractor’s Techy

At the Consumer Electronics Show, John Deere unveiled the first fully autonomous tractor to be produced en masse. Existing tractors can already autopilot by GPS, but Deere’s new model adds the ability to avoid obstacles. Wired writer Will Knight noted that autonomous equipment may alleviate some pains of worker shortages, but cited farmers’ concerns about Deere farming data with the machines too: “They’re trying to be the Facebook of farming.” While we’re on the subject, The Wall Street Journal reviewed Neil Dahlstrom’s “Tractor Wars,” a history of the tractor starting from the 1902 foundation of International Harvester and following competition between firms.

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December 21, 2021
Focus Feature:

The Three Factors That Will Shape Food Production in 2022

2022 in food

Over the past two years, persistent disruptions in supply chains and consumer behavior forced food producers to adapt far more quickly than usual. Yet brands have used the tumult to reshape sourcing policies, refocus how they define “good” and reframe their brand stories. We’ve seen three major trends dominate these changes and expect them to further shape the industry in 2022.

Climate Conversations

Next year promises to be a big year for action on climate-friendly policies as companies and countries follow up on commitments made at the U.N. Food Systems Summit and COP26. Lofty goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — particularly methane — may have distant deadlines of 2030 and 2050, but decision-makers are already planning how to adjust sourcing policies. On our 2022 weather map:

  • Research plans. Government and corporate leaders want to know that they’re pursuing the most effective solutions. Some have already increased funding commitments to universities and pilot programs to ensure their investments produce real results.
  • Corporate action. We expect to see more concrete actions as companies announce and establish programs to meet new sourcing guidelines. These changes will affect supply chains everywhere from farm stewardship to menu choices.
  • Weather’s climate tie-in. The consequences of climate change continue to impact supply chains. Widespread drought in the western United States will likely continue through 2022, forcing farmers to make difficult decisions and potentially limiting grocery store availability.

Pursuit of the Perfect Protein

While plant-based proteins stole the limelight in 2021, 2022 will set the stage for the market entry of cell-cultured proteins. As regulators establish safety and labeling standards, the speed of “cultivated meat” production reaching scale and consumers accepting these new products remain subjects of intense conjecture. Plant-based proteins won’t fade away, but cell-cultured options will bring fresh competition to an already-hot protein market. Look out for:

  • Plant-based competition. Growth of plant-based protein sales has slowed, but investments continue to pour into the sector. The plethora of new contenders in the market sets the stage for consolidation. We expect to see more of this over the next 12 months.
  • Cell-cultured protein regulation. After inviting public comment, the USDA is slated to publish rules for cell-cultured protein labeling next year. At the same time, the FDA is working to establish standards for safe production.
  • Meat marketing. Although many meat processors have hedged “protein portfolios” with investments in alternative proteins, we expect these companies to intensify messaging around their products’ tradition, nutrition and sustainability.

Workforce Undergirds Everything

The pandemic elevated workforce issues from an underlying concern to the dominant topic of conversation among industry leaders, and we expect that to continue. Farms, food processing and foodservice outlets all struggled to fill positions pre-pandemic, so the shortage of workers and wave of strikes only mean that workers will have a strong negotiating position going into 2022. Watch out for:

  • Worker shortages. After many left food industry jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, recovery for foodservice, processing and agriculture has trailed the economy as a whole.
  • Strikes and labor disputes. Momentum fromsuccessful strikes in late 2021 will further encourage unions to use the leverage of a tight labor market to fight for increased wages and benefits.
  • Pandemic safety. The omicron variant of COVID-19 has revived concerns about the safety of frontline workers. Meanwhile, employers await word on a legal battle over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

With these three topics proving so dominant in the national dialogue, we recommend all food and beverage marketers devote some time to formalizing their perspectives and policies on each. You do not necessarily have to take any actions now, but preparing for these to become potential issues in 2022 makes for a prudent practice. Proactivity beats reactivity every time.

Here’s wishing you and your business strength and prosperity in the coming year.

The Intel Distillery Team

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December 17, 2021
Friday by Noon:

Trials and Resilience

While this is our last edition of Friday by Noon for 2021, it’s not the last email you’ll get from us this year. Look for a short piece next week that lays down our predictions for the biggest topics in food, beverage and ag in 2022.

In the meantime, here’s what leaders in food, beverage and agriculture discussed to close out the year:

  • Tornadoes wreaked havoc, but prompted some to step up to help.
  • Animal protein groups focused on climate-friendliness.
  • Big players reflected on this year and predicted next year.

“In times of great need like these, it’s important that we help in the way we know best — by providing essentials like food and water as well as a helping hand.”

Randy Edeker, Chairman and CEO, Hy-Vee

Disaster Begets Goodness

The weather continues to severely hamper food production. All summer long, wildfires and drought plagued the western U.S., hampering produce, grains and livestock. By late August, hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast region and the East Coast, crippling food transportation and international trade.

The weather incident in Kentucky illustrates how vulnerable our food system is to extreme weather after a series of tornadoes killed dozens of people and wreaked havoc in five states. The episode highlighted another key theme of recent years: Food companies are often first to jump in and help with disaster relief efforts.

  • On December 13, Reuters’ Tom Polansek summarized the damage in poultry powerhouse Kentucky, where an entire Pilgrim’s Pride hatchery was destroyed. The tornadoes also ruined many grain silos and a John Deere tractor dealership.
  • The Daily Scoop detailed the damages to the University of Kentucky Extension’s crop research efforts in Princeton, Kentucky, where the tornadoes flattened every single structure.
  • Food companies were quick to help victims. Meatingplace described how poultry producers Pilgrim’s and Tyson Foods activated “funds and food” immediately in response.
  • Ahead of a high-profile 2022 partnership with KFC, Grammy-nominated “What’s Poppin'” rapper Jack Harlow and Yum! Brands (KFC’s parent company) will donate $250,000 to the American Red Cross to aid tornado victims (Variety).
  • The Specialty Food Association covered Hy-Vee’s mobilization of 37 employees, 327,000 bottles of water, and 222,000 snack bars to help tornado victims.

Carbon Catch-up

There has been a notable uptick in animal protein brands adopting and marketing environmentally friendly practices. Perhaps in response to the emphasis on environmental claims made by alternative protein makers, many of these adaptations cite consumer preference at their foundations.

  • Modern Farmer covered the first USDA-approved low-carbon beef certification that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing farmers who chose environmentally friendly practices. What, exactly, is “low-carbon beef”? Food & Wine detailed its origins, as well as what it means for farmers and consumers.
  • Do Good Chicken raises “climate-friendly” poultry on diverted grocery store food waste and will be available at major national retailers in February. Politico cited the product launch as “a sign of things to come as the food industry increasingly grapples with consumer concern about the climate crisis.”
  • Kroger has entered into a partnership with Kipster Farms to produce a “carbon-neutral, cage-free egg.” The farm “uses chicken feed made from surplus food from bakeries and other food producers” and “minimizes fine particle emissions, resulting in better air quality.”
  • Fifteen years after it launched a “Cleaner Wiener” made of organic, grass-fed beef, Applegate introduced the Do Good Dog, “the first nationally available hot dog sourced from verified regenerative U.S. grasslands” (New Hope Network). Our opinion as marketers: “Do Good Dog” lacks the breakthrough panache of “Cleaner Weiner.”
  • Popular Science presented a well-researched comparison weighing the environmental impact of plant-based proteins like the Impossible Burger versus its animal protein counterparts. The verdict was complex, suggesting that legumes and vegetables were better overall: “while plant-based meat may fit in the climate solution, it’s far from the only, let alone most impactful one.”

Farewell ’21, Hello ’22

We’ll have an exhaustive list in our year-end wrap-up, but here’s a core sample of interesting retrospectives and predictions to hold you over through the holidays.

  • Food industry leaders got into the giving spirit. Yelp established a $100,000 fund to help Texans winterize restaurants. Consumer Brands Association compiled a list of charitable efforts by companies ranging from Conagra to PepsiCo to Tyson.
  • WWF published a report on plastic packaging, finding that Coke, Keurig, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Starbucks collectively cut “use of problematic plastic by 57%” since 2018.
  • The Washington Post and The New York Times offered competing takes on the best cookbooks of 2021. Of the 22 recommendations, only “Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ” and “Cook Real Hawai’i” appeared on both. You’re welcome, last-minute shoppers.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News Editorial Director Sam Oches discussed the ever-evolving future of ghost kitchens with Kitchen United’s Corey Manicone.
  • Not to be topped by Whole Foods’ annual trend predictions (which included Kernza and yuzu), Technomic presented a wish list of emerging global flavors for 2022: halloumi, mutabal, tlayudas and avocado coffee. These might all be delicious, but can we learn one new food at a time?

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Insta-granola Famous

After Instagram influencer Tom Bannister’s love for granola became fodder on his celebrity wife’s instagram, he got into the granola business. What has been deemed “the Birkin of granolas” has grown so popular, that at one point there were 17,000 people on the waiting list to subscribe. Grub Street mentioned that Tom’s Perfect 10 releases a new flavor each month and each 10-ounce bag costs $20.

‘What Is Art? What if Food?’

Travel writer Geraldine DeRuiter (aka “The Everywhereist”) reviewed Bros, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lecce, Italy in a blog that went viral. DeRuiter describes a chaotic 27-course meal, but “there was nothing even close to an actual meal served,” and courses varied from meat droplets to citrus foam served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth. The restaurant provided a three-page “Declaration by Chef Floriano Pellegrino” to TODAY, complete with drawings and comparisons of the food to modern art.

Pinpointing Price Proliferation

Talk of inflation and rising food prices persists. Ag economist Jayson Lusk’s team at Purdue University created a dashboard that auto-updates information on price increases by category. (The UX could use a little help, but the info is quick and valuable.) Also, UK marketing firm Ingredient Communications published research results that found “the exact point at which shoppers will consider a product to be too expensive.” Spoiler: it’s a 40% increase, but the methodology is interesting.

Enter the Triple Whopper

On December 14, Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle summarized her latest paper, which tracks increasing portion sizes in foodservice, in the American Journal of Public Health. Although some chains have reduced things like “supersizing,” the problem remains a “triple-threat” because big portions “have more calories (if only this were intuitively obvious, but it is not), encourage people to eat more, confuse people about how much they are eating.” This reminded us of two classics: Prevention’s 25 foods you should never eat, and the list of the most unhealthy restaurant meals, according to Men’s Health. Yes, Cheesecake Factory’s breakfast burrito still has 4,630 mg of sodium.

Mustard Gas

Ever eat fresh mustard and felt like your nostrils were on fire? Well, it turns out jet engines might get that feeling, too. USDA research suggests that oil from Ethiopian mustard seeds “could reduce up to 68% of carbon emissions compared to a unit of conventional aviation fuel.” Don’t get your heads in the clouds just yet, sustainable aviation fuels have sky-high prices — currently five times higher than regular fuel.

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Friday by Noon:

Making It Work

Worker policy served as this week’s conversational main course among the most influential in food, beverage and agriculture: a foundational topic, pandemic or not. Two less common topics rounded out the plate:

  • Unionization and bonuses dominated worker discussions.
  • Food waste solutions surfaced from the Feds.
  • Labeling conversations bubbled back up about lab-grown meat.

Striking Out

From unionizing to joining picket lines, workers continue to demand better wages and working conditions. While some companies are fighting back, others are showing their gratitude with bonuses and wage increases.

  • Workers at a Buffalo-area Starbucks store voted to unionize this week, with Starbucks arguing that “its workers enjoy some of the best wages and benefits in the retail and restaurant industry and don’t need a union.” Two other stores voted against unionizing, reported The New York Times.
  • After more than two months on strike, the union representing 1,400 Kellogg cereal plant workers rejected a tentative labor agreement reached last week (USA Today). In a statement, Kellogg resolved to hire permanent replacements for the positions left vacant by striking employees. Hacktivists organized on Reddit to clog the online application portals.
  • Workers at a Pennsylvania Coca-Cola distribution center went on strike this week. Food Manufacturing noted 77 Teamsters union members — including delivery truck drivers, loaders and warehouse workers — began picketing at midnight when their contracts expired on Sunday.
  • About 40 first-shift employees at Wayne Farms staged a walkout Tuesday, a day before a scheduled vote on a three-year collective bargaining agreement. Meatingplace mentioned it was the second demonstration in recent months.
  • Tyson Foods plans to spend $50 million on bonuses this year to thank front-line workers for their performance during the pandemic. The one-time bonuses range from $300 to $700 and are based on length of service (Food Processing).
  • A Conference Board survey found that companies are planning an average of 3.9% of total payroll on average for wage increases next year, the most since 2008. For 39% of respondents, inflation factored into the decision to increase wages.

Wasted, but Different

Food waste came back into focus when the U.S. government tackled the issue from both a legislative and regulatory perspective. The latest ripples involve making it easier for companies to donate food and associating food waste reduction with climate change mitigation.

  • Quick background: the FDA estimates 30% to 40% of food in the U.S. is lost or wasted at some point in the production chain, but this issue has largely taken a back burner to pandemic-related priorities. In 2016, the FDA and EPA named a board of “Champions” in the private sector and committed to a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.
  • Members of the U.S. Senate introduced the bipartisan Food Donation Improvement Act on November 30. The bill would remove some liability roadblocks restaurants and grocery stores face when trying to donate to food banks. The Hill reported that the action was prompted by a letter by several influential food brands including WW International, Grubhub, Hellmann’s and Impossible Foods.
  • In support of this legislation, WW International will host a free virtual panel featuring many high-profile voices on December 16.
  • Last month, the EPA published a report, “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste,” that underscores the importance of reducing food waste to address climate change.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council interviewed a co-author of the report who said food waste is “where we are going to get the most bang for our buck from a climate change perspective.”
  • GMO Answers, a group dedicated to informing the public about genetically engineered foods, suggested one solution to food waste: GMOs. Specifically, the group plugged genetically engineered non-browning apples that “mean fewer perfectly good apples thrown away that end up in landfills.”
  • The FDA published a comprehensive guide to reducing food waste at home and at restaurants.
  • The Guardian offered holiday food shopping advice to prevent food waste: “Don’t shop as if you are under siege.” We keep it simple; don’t load up on fruitcake.

So … Cultured

On December 3, the USDA closed a comment period for labeling of foods derived from cell-cultured protein. USDA will use the feedback when developing its rules for marketing standards while FDA establishes regulations for production safety.

  • In comments submitted by Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest, the groups outlined the goal of labeling: “A phrase that is accurate, neutral, and informative to consumers.” The hard part is that everyone disagrees about what is “accurate.”
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association argued in favor of “lab-grown meat,” “meat byproduct” or “meat food product” as “a clear and unambiguous description that effectively distinguishes the product from traditionally harvested meat.”
  • Producers represented by the Alliance for Meat, Poultry, and Seafood Innovation countered that products will be indistinguishable from traditional meat, and “large-scale production … will occur in a food production facility that will not resemble a laboratory.”
  • The National Milk Producers Federation objected to the term “cultured” because of its association with yogurt and kefir.
  • National Chicken Council requested a prohibition of terms like “wing” and “breast” due to lack of cell-cultured anatomy.
  • However, Good Food Institute contended that cuts of meat should be allowed: “Prohibiting the use of a well-known word like ‘bacon’ on this cultivated product package would cause consumer confusion and create potentially severe health risks for consumers with pork allergies.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Don’t Ask Alice

Breakthrough Institute founder Ted Nordhaus penned a scathing profile of farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters in left-leaning Jacobin: “If we followed the advice of ‘slow food’ advocates like Alice Waters, we’d end up with literally billions hungry and more workers hyperexploited. There’s nothing progressive about the ‘slow food revolution.'” Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel tweeted, “He is absolutely right that the way to fix [industrial ag] isn’t with non-industrial ag. It’s with better industrial ag.”

The Cream Cheese Incident

The New York Times described a supply chain issue dear to New Yorkers’ hearts: bagel shops are having a hard time sourcing cream cheese. “Problems have popped up at every point along the supply chain that brings cream cheese from factories to the morning bagel.” One contributing factor: The top maker of cream cheese, Schreiber Foods, shut down production after being hit by a cyberattack (Bloomberg).

Caring is for Everyone

​​Food Ingredients First shared insight from key suppliers in the industry on the “shared planet” trend prediction for 2022, which it described as “planetary health is everyone’s shared responsibility.” “Our food system is resilient, but it’s never faced environmental or social challenges quite like the ones facing us today. Our population is growing, our water sources are dwindling, and our climate is changing,” said a spokesperson for Cargill.

Why Red?

Modern Farmer explored the old tradition of painting barns red. American farmers in the 1800s often mixed linseed oil and pigments to make their own paint, and they often chose a “Venetian red” pigment. “This red pigment penetrated well into wooden barn boards and resisted fading when exposed to sunlight, so it could age gracefully for generations.”

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Focus Feature:

Evolution of CSR in Food Marketing

CSR evolution timeline

One of the most evergreen trends we track at The Intel Distillery has been the ever-evolving ways that brands define what makes food “good.” Lately, companies have increasingly integrated corporate social responsibility (CSR) themes when telling their brand stories. Read more in our latest Focus Feature.

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Friday by Noon:

Givers Deliver

A collective post-Thanksgiving hangover offered the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture an opportunity to discuss:

  • Retail and foodservice channel delivery
  • Workers’ continued struggles
  • Giving Tuesday’s power to fight hunger and showcase good deeds

At Your Doorstep

After a long weekend in the kitchen, it comes as no surprise to us that food delivery garnered more attention this week. From reducing time in the grocery store to meals prepared in restaurants with no storefront (“ghost kitchens”), American innovation seems hellbent on shortening the time between wanting food and eating it.

  • On November 29, online retailer Boxed.com announced an expansion into food with the purchase of grocery delivery company MaxDelivery.
  • Winsight Grocery Business reported that Walmart launched drone-based delivery in Arkansas on November 22.
  • Supermarket News shared survey findings that suggest the online grocery market is likely to continue growing.
  • Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal published a double feature on counter-trends for restaurant delivery. Heather Haddon and Preetika Rana noted that dine-in-focused brands — including Cheesecake Factory, Dine Brands and Darden — have opted to limit delivery during short-staffed times.
  • Reporter Eliot Brown documented ramifications of rapid growth in the ghost kitchen industry, particularly for category leader Reef.
  • In Nation’s Restaurant News, Euromonitor’s Michael Schaefer wrote: “Consumer demand for delivery is not going away — this is … more about where and how those wings are being prepared.”

“In any given city, the question is whether it is more efficient … to produce wings, pizza, pad thai, etc. through dozens of small kitchens or through a smaller number of larger, more centralized, automated facilities.”

Michael Schaefer, Euromonitor (Nation’s Restaurant News)

Labor Pains

The big workforce news this week was Kellogg’s announcement that it reached a tentative agreement with its striking cereal plant workers. The vaccine mandate also stirred discussion with many trade associations applauding the temporary hold placed on the vaccine mandate. Meanwhile, the labor shortage trudges on.

  • After threatening to hire permanent replacements just last week, Kellogg’s has reached a tentative agreement with the 1,400 cereal plant workers that, if approved, would end a nearly two-month-long strike. On December 5, the worker union will vote on the agreement, which includes 3% raises, “cost of living adjustments and maintains the workers’ current health benefits,” according to the Associated Press.
  • When a Louisiana judge placed OSHA’s vaccine mandate on a temporary hold only a day and a half after it was issued, trade associations like the National Retail Federation applauded the pause due to the “unprecedented burden on millions of businesses across the country.”
  • While the labor shortage is making it hard to find good employees, it’s not all the pandemic’s fault. Food Manufacturing found that “data shows employee turnover has been rising steadily for the past decade and may simply be the new normal employers are going to have to get used to.”
  • Official employment figures reinforced the shortfall in the food and beverage service sector. CNBC covered the issue, noting that a gain of 120,000 workers in October still leaves the industry at a shortfall of more than 500,000 workers from pre-pandemic levels.
  • September job numbers revealed 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, up from 4.3 million in August and 3.6 million pre-pandemic. The Wall Street Journal noted “there were 10.4 million job openings at the end of September, amounting to 1.4 jobs for each unemployed person seeking work.”
  • As many Americans rethink their jobs, some rural community leaders hope they’ll be drawn to the country “for a better and more affordable quality of life,” reported Agri-Pulse.

‘Radical Generosity’

Giving Tuesday provided an opportunity for nonprofits to fundraise and for brands to showcase their do-gooding. ABC News reported American donors gave a record $2.7 billion. Food companies, always in a unique position to help with their communities through hunger relief, contributed to the efforts.

  • In her blog in Meatingplace, Animal Agriculture Alliance’s Hannah Thompson-Weeman discussed the importance of “unleashing the power of radical generosity to transform communities and the world.”
  • Announcing it would donate $1 per sandwich to hunger relief organization Blessings in a Backpack, KFC called a truce on the chicken sandwich wars and challenged its rivals to do the same. All we are saying, is give piece of chicken a chance …
  • As part of its Better Days program, Kellogg’s teamed up with Associated Wholesale Grocers to donate more than $22,000 to Feeding America (Shelby Report).
  • Following through on a company policy “to take care of our customers, team members and community,” retailer Meijer announced plans to donate nearly $3 million to the people and communities it serves in the Midwest (Specialty Foods Association).
  • For every meal ordered through its app or online, Noodles & Company donated $1 to its own foundation dedicated to helping employees (aka “Noodlers”) fund their educations (Nation’s Restaurant News).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

The New Ice

Researchers at UC Davis have developed a “cooling cube” that offers a triple threat of benefits: it’s compostable, won’t melt, and will cut down on cross contamination. Wait, why didn’t whiskey stones catch on?

Microbes > Microchips

Aanika Biosciences has come to the rescue for those of us who still struggle with the motherly admonition of “don’t eat that, you don’t know where it’s been!” The company, which recently landed $12 million in funding, has developed “edible microbial ‘tags'” that can track food items through the supply chain and boost traceability. The technology can be used directly on crops and has applicability for meats, oils, greens and grains.

Green Mountain Saffron

Modern Farmer described the burgeoning saffron farming industry in Vermont, which now boasts about 200 saffron farms. The spice is typically grown in Iran and Spain and can cost thousands of dollars per pound: “It’s slow work, and must be done by hand. This is one of the reasons for its great cost; it takes an estimated 75,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron.”

The Champagne of Gingerbread

The Milwaukee Sentinel covered how Molson Coors is promoting its Miller High Life brand this season with build-your-own gingerbread dive bar kits. “The gingerbread walls are infused with Miller High Life and there’s Vermont maple syrup to pour on the branded bar floor to “recreate that distinct sticky floor feeling.” The kit will cost $50 and will be available here on December 6.

Bottle Bottleneck

A Food Processing article explained causes of the liquor bottle shortage: “A glass supplier estimated that before the Trump administration, 60% to 70% of America’s glass bottles were made in China. After trade sanctions were imposed on China, orders began to shift to suppliers in Europe and South America. When lockdowns hit, they lasted longer in those regions than in China, roiling the supply chain for glass bottles.”

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Other Analysis:

Alt. Meat Leaders and Losers — November 2021

Sourcing Concerns Hit on Two-thirds of ESG

In the past month, influential figures in alt. meat production devoted their attention to sourcing decisions — particularly the environmental impact of such choices. Climate policy negotiations (COP26) held in Glasgow, Scotland, served as a uniting factor for these topics.

  • The Good Food Institute asserted: “It’s impossible to meet the Paris Agreement without shifting away from conventional animal agriculture.”
  • However, investors and researchers raised concerns that alternative protein makers lack the governance to demonstrate claims of a lower carbon footprint. In The New York Times, UC Berkeley researcher Ricardo San Martin called the industry “a black box.”

Additionally, foodservice outlets garnered attention for product tests: Burger King piloted Impossible Nuggets mid-October, and McDonald’s tested its McPlant offering (from Beyond Meat) beginning on Nov. 3. Meanwhile, conversations around investment and food trends fell relative to the previous month.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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