April 10, 2020
Friday by Noon:

To Give and to Receive

This week’s take on food production focuses on aid during the coronavirus pandemic: both giving and receiving. In recent weeks, the conversation about who’s helping whom has proven a hot topic, from the $3 trillion federal bailout to high-end chefs converting their restaurants to food banks.

With unemployment rampant, food groups from across the spectrum are advocating for themselves and outlining their needs. In addition, the topic of frontline workers and employee relations continues to top the list of discussions. We look at a few different perspectives along the supply chain below.

“The people we serve and the charitable food system in the United States are facing a ‘perfect storm,’ with surges in demand, declines in food donations and volunteers, and disruptions to normal operating procedures, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO, Feeding America

Sometimes You Lend a Hand …

As millions of Americans file for unemployment — and millions more face uncertain futures — many have stepped up to help. The government, food companies and chefs have all provided aid in what ways they can.

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) outlined how federal stimulus packages help farmers, food producers and families facing hunger.
  • PepsiCo pledged to spend $45 million in COVID-19 aid globally.
  • Northeastern grocery chain Stop & Shop committed to send 5,000 meals daily to hospitals in New York City and Boston.
  • After converting the high-end restaurant to a soup kitchen of sorts, Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm told Food & Wine, “If every restaurant in NYC would get $500 a day to produce 100 meals, we would end hunger.”
  • The Washington Post detailed Guy Fieri’s fundraising efforts for corporate donations to the National Restaurant Association Education Fund’s employee relief fund. Judging by the “supporters” list, there’s some love for workers at diners, drive-ins and dives.

… Sometimes You Need a Hand

Relief cannot come soon enough for key segments of the food industry. Restaurants are scrutinizing the $350 billion in available loans for small businesses, food banks are struggling to serve communities as demand spikes, and agriculture needs financial aid to keep the domestic food supply going.

  • In The Washington Post, Naomi Pomeroy, founder of the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition described the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the Small Business Administration: “It’s just kind of a nightmare the way it’s set up.”
  • Restaurant relief funds for workers cannot keep up with demand. Teofilo Reyes, Director of Programs and Research for nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center United, lamented, “We wish we could support everybody but the need is pretty overwhelming.”
  • Facing soaring demand and plummeting supply, Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot warned that the charity faces a $1.4 billion shortfall.
  • Agriculture groups, including the National Farmers Union, are elevating calls to the USDA for quick and efficient disbursement of relief funds — which include $9.5 billion for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers and $14 billion to replenish Commodity Credit Corporation funds.
  • A coalition of 31 agriculture groups appealed to the Small Business Association, asking farms and related businesses to qualify for loans under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program: “Many agricultural producers need access to this critical source of financing to help preserve their businesses and avoid further disruptions to our economy and food systems.”
  • Activist group Union of Concerned Scientists emphasized that farms are highly intertwined with the health of local businesses.

Hard Times on the Front Line

Frontline workers on farms, food processing and channels continue to draw attention in the wake of the coronavirus. Most discussions showcase stories about their employment status, health concerns and role as essential services during the pandemic.

“We’re always worried about contamination. And now, it’s not only product contamination but employee contamination.”​

Howard Dorman, Mazars USA (Food Dive)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Even Supply Chains Can’t Make Ends Meet

Tamara Lush of The Associated Press highlighted a growing problem for produce farmers: their usual buyers are gone. With restaurants, theme parks and schools closed, “thousands of acres of fruits and vegetables grown in Florida are being plowed over or left to rot.” Unless new channels spring up, leafy greens from Arizona and California face a similar fate.

Retail Quick Hits

Morning brew reported that, as of the beginning of April, downloads of Walmart’s grocery delivery app outpaced Amazon’s by 20%.

In a YouTube video posted April 8, Partnership for a Healthier America’s Nancy Roman interviewed Leslie Sarasin, the CEO of FMI: the Food Industry Association.

Staying Ahead by Planning Ahead

A March 26 Texas Monthly article featured San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B’s efforts to stay ahead of the coronavirus curve. The 300-unit chain, widely considered an industry trendsetter, began making considerations in early January for its supply chain, workers, shoppers, store hours and more — well ahead of many of its counterparts across the country.

Know Your Sustainable Oils

Triple Pundit dove deep into the sustainability stories of palm and coconut oils. Human rights and environmental groups have long criticized palm oil production practices, ultimately affecting shopping choices on grocery shelves. While palm oil remains the world’s most widely used oil, food companies and consumers have increasingly chosen coconut oil as an alternative. Author Nithin Coca outlined that there are more considerations beyond deforestation and workers rights such as efficiency and the diversity of products each crop can produce.

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April 3, 2020
Friday by Noon:

Normalcy is a Stocked Grocery Store

The unfolding coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate just about every aspect of conversations in food production. In previous weeks, we outlined industry content segment by segment, but in this edition we focus on three distinct themes:

  1. The dramatic effect on workers throughout the supply chain
  2. The major changes in food consumption at the consumer level
  3. The important events that have been canceled, postponed or moved to the back burner

The first quarter of 2020 closed this week, and our quantitative analysis of industry discussions verified coronavirus’s enormous impact across the entire food production business. Notably, worker issues are surfacing as the issue that the crisis has impacted most aggressively.

Later this month, we’ll also release our quarterly Top Ten Topics, which will help put this unprecedented period into further perspective.

“It’s definitely eye-opening. Because people are now saying, ‘Oh, my God, these people deserve hazard pay.’ But these are the same people who say we don’t deserve $15 an hour.”

Courtney Meadows, cashier, Kroger (NPR)

1. Concern for Front-line Workers

Some leaders used their position to offer support and stand in solidarity with their front-line workers. Meanwhile, companies that failed to act drew the ire of employees who complained that not enough had been done to ensure their health, safety and well-being.

Undocumented Workers:

  • Salon voiced concern for undocumented restaurant workers amid record unemployment rates. The article cites Pew research statistics that estimate, “In 2014, about 1.1 million, or 10% of restaurant workers were undocumented.”
  • The New York Times interviewed undocumented farm workers who — while deemed essential — still face possible deportation and are not eligible for any of the $2 trillion stimulus package.
  • The Washington Post reported that more than 10 million people applied for unemployment as of April 2.

Hospitality Workers

  • Grub Street called for kindness and empathy toward the front-line workers keeping America fed.
  • David Gibbs, CEO of Taco Bell and KFC parent company Yum! Brands, donated his salary to fund bonuses for managers and an employee relief fund.
  • Bloomberg spoke with laid-off and furloughed hospitality employees who “are hesitant to apply for the new jobs for a number of reasons, including safety concerns.”
  • NPR made the case for hazard pay and paid sick leave for essential workers. “Work that is often low-paid, and comes with few protections, is now suddenly much more dangerous.”

Food Production Workers

  • Vox spoke with advocacy groups who represent Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods workers striking for safer conditions: “The companies they work for are not providing basic support, like giving them the time and supplies to wash their hands between shifts.”
  • ProPublica summarized different meat processors’ employee safety responses and asked, “What happens if the workers cutting up the nation’s meat get sick?”
  • Agri-Pulse reported that five federal employees, including one FSIS inspector, have sued the federal government for hazard pay for working during the coronavirus crisis, seeking class-action status for more than 100,000 employees.
  • Food Navigator provided food processors with some best practices to ensure their workforce stays safe and healthy.

Retail Workers

  • The United Food and Commercial Workers Union announced that talks with Kroger resulted in a $2 per hour wage increase and several other benefits and protections for 460,000 workers nationwide.
  • Walmart announced it would begin taking employees’ temperatures as a safety precaution. Associates “with a temperature of 100.0 degrees will be paid for reporting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment.”
  • Reuters noted many major grocery chains have begun installing plexiglass partitions at checkout counters to protect cashiers.
  • Trader Joe’s employees circulated an online petition demanding “safe work conditions and hazard pay.”
Join us on Mondays at 11

2. Changes in Food Consumption

Pandemic shopping and cooking has consumers reconsidering what is essential.

  • Agri-Pulse postponed its Food and Ag Policy Summit West until September 9.
  • The Institute of the Masters of Wine canceled this year’s introductory exams.
  • The Institute of Food Technologists transitioned its annual conference to a fully virtual experience.
  • The National Pork Producers Council canceled World Pork Expo for the second year in a row. The group dropped last year’s event as a precaution for African swine fever.
  • Senators pushed for the delay of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, worrying the pandemic leaves “little, if any, time and resources to prepare for a smooth transition.”
  • Following up on China’s January commitment to purchase agricultural goods from the U.S., Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced: “China is moving in the right direction to implement the Phase One agreement.”
  • As a reminder, in mid-March the FDA postponed routine domestic facility inspections.
  • Nutrition Facts labeling compliance is also canceled for restaurants that wish to sell unused inventory as grocery products to buoy sales.

“We need to continue to produce in this crisis. That’s the first step of normalcy for a lot of people is you show up to the grocery store and if there is food on the shelf, and so we have a big part in returning a calmness to the market.”

Steve Presley, CEO, Nestlé USA (Food Dive)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Cook Together Apart

Bon Appétit proposed a way to pass the time during a coronavirus-induced state of boredom: crowdsource recipes among friends and make a virtual cookbook. Author Ella Quitnor says the Google doc she created now serves as “a place I can go to feel like I’m hanging out with friends even when I haven’t spoken to anyone but Siri for days.”

Waste Not Want Not

National Geographic suggested apps, food banks and organizations that work to redistribute food from homes, restaurant kitchens and fields that would otherwise be wasted. For example, Replate allows businesses to schedule on-demand pickups for surplus food in Austin, the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle.

Milk Man Revival

With social distancing confining people to their homes, The New York Times has tracked the resurgence of the milkman. The appeal of having “one less reason to venture outside, one way of avoiding snaking queues and empty shelves at supermarkets, at least one essential that can be guaranteed” is piquing consumers’ renewed interest.

Go With the Flow

On March 31, the heads of the World Trade Organization, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization called on world leaders to remove trade-related barriers to the food supply and “show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world.”

Not-so-secret Society of Snackers

Food & Wine reported that Frito-Lay has formed a not-so-secret “Snack Society.” With the help of tech firm Zyper, the snack company identified its 22 biggest fans and inducted them into the exclusive group, where they receive “free snacks and exclusive swag, as well as access to things like new products and branded events” in exchange for content creation and their opinions on new snacks. Lucky …

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March 13, 2020
Friday by Noon:

‘Quarantine Cookbook’

Obviously, COVID-19 dominated every facet of the news this week. Influential voices in food certainly dug in on the subject, while a few other topics squeaked past:

  • Panic pandemic shopping
  • Bioengineered education
  • Salad safety

“Go ahead and put your money where your heart is. But don’t feel like it’s up to you and your food purchases to solve every problem in the world.”

Dan Charles, NPR

COVID-19 Clears Shelves

Food figures heavily in how people are preparing for the possibility of a two-week quarantine. It should be noted that while the Department of Homeland Security recommended stocking up on two weeks worth of food, water and regular prescription drugs in a pandemic, panic buying is always ill advised. That doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent.

  • Eater interviewed Cornell Tech professor Karan Girotra, who reminded readers “Panic buying becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy … Irrational behavior, rumors, misinformation can create short-term logistical issues.”
  • The Wall Street Journal spoke with retailers, logistics specialists and consumers to illustrate the different ways people are preparing for shortages and the rise in demand for food and cleaning supplies.
  • Increasingly, people are turning to delivery services to get supplies without leaving their homes, The Counter quoted a representative from Instacart: “Sales have grown tenfold over the last 72 hours.”
  • Supermarket News reported some delivery services have launched “contactless” delivery options “to protect the health and safety of the delivery ecosystem.”
  • Bloomberg surveyed what people were stocking up on for their “pandemic pantries.” Rather surprisingly, oat milk stuck out as a crowd favorite.
  • Food publications and blogs stressed eating at home. Bon Appetit published “71 Creative Rice Recipes Using Our Favorite Pantry Staple” while Quartz posted home-cooking ideas under the “Quarantine Cookbook” umbrella.

BE-tter Understanding

On March 4, the EPA, USDA and FDA launched Feed Your Mind, a multi-agency effort to “help consumers better understand genetically engineered foods.” This initiative comes as the agencies work to fulfill requirements of the requirements of the national mandatory bioengineered (BE) food labeling standard by 2022.”

  • Feedstuffs provided a summary of the information that was published, including this YouTube video from the FDA.
  • A Feed Your Mind fact sheet noted GMO is the “common term consumers and popular media use,” while bioengineered is “the term that Congress used to describe certain types of GMOs.”
  • On March 12, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the future of biotechnology and regulatory issues. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts told Agri-Pulse the hearing would focus on “where we are from a producer’s standpoint.”
  • Food Dive suggested the initiative was too late: “Since the labeling law could very well change the public terminology on the issue, there may be a future where the acronym ‘GMO’ may only consistently appear on the Non GMO Project Verified seal.”

Yellow Light for Leafy Greens

On March 5, the FDA released the “2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan” to identify and prevent dangerous strains of E. coli after several recent outbreaks of foodborne illness stemming from leafy greens, (food safety attorney Bill Marler counted five E. coli outbreaks in the past three years). The plan falls under the FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the plan was “designed to help foster a more urgent, collaborative and action-oriented approach.”

  • Food Safety News reporter Coral Beach provided a detailed backgrounder while Georgia State professor Timothy Lytton published an opinion in the same publication suggesting this policy is “more of the same.”
  • Meatingplace highlighted FDA efforts to monitor cattle operations and “the impact of adjacent and nearby land use on leafy greens growing areas.”
  • Western Growers Association committed to “working with FDA and the leafy greens sector to achieve common goals.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

If You Can’t Take the Heat …

According to Bloomberg, fine dining can come with a hefty price tag and even heftier carbon footprint. On March 5, food editor Kate Krader and food critic Richard Vines highlighted chefs who are “showcasing innovative ways to cook in a warming world,” through a series of upscale recipes made with sustainable and low- or no-waste ingredients.

C-Suite Solidarity

On March 6, the New York State Pension Fund withdrew its shareholder proposal that requested Coca-Cola Co. take into account the wages it pays all of its employees when setting executive salaries. Trustee Thomas DiNapoli announced Coca-Cola agreed to “consider other factors which it regularly reviews, including … CEO pay ratio; global pay fairness; progress against diversity metrics; and others.”

This Research Stinks

Modern Farmer reported that scientists from Technical University of Munich in Germany figured out what makes durian so stinky. The popular Asian fruit’s smell has been likened to “rotten onions mixed with a hot mountain of poopy diapers.” A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that as a durian ripens, it accrues more ethionine, a rare amino acid that releases the smell. Taking bets on how long it takes this discovery to reach middle school boys.

‘Can’t Build Peace on Empty Stomachs’

On LinkedIn, Bayer SVP of Public Affairs and Sustainability Matthias Berninger recalled his experience at the 2020 Munich Security Conference. For the first time, food security became a topic of discussion. Berninger stressed that “climate change is the most significant threat to food security which will in turn become a major security risk.” To mitigate that risk, he suggests innovating traditional ag, supporting small farmers and focusing collaboration efforts. As Lord John Boyd Orr, the first director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, put it: “You can’t build peace on empty stomachs.”

Clearing Up Cluttered Labels

On NPR’s Life Kit podcast, host Dan Charles explained how to read different eco-labels that appear on food and beverage items, in an attempt to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. The final takeaway: “Go ahead and put your money where your heart is. But don’t feel like it’s up to you and your food purchases to solve every problem in the world.”

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March 6, 2020
Friday by Noon:

A Sick Week

This was a sick week for food industry events. Luckily, the only bug The Intel Distillery members caught was the Mormon cricket. We let it go outside …

  • We traveled for a little food show and tell
  • But COVID-19 crashed the party

We are also introducing a monthly special, Distilled Perspective, where we answer reader questions on the industry. This month, it’s the state of American dairies.

“People still have this image of red barns, of cows in the field. … We’ve all been there — it’s an image, and it feels like a warm hug, somehow, and that’s what you want to think of when you think of a dairy farm. But that’s not the reality anymore.”

Mark Stephenson, Director, University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability (Bloomberg)

Show Business

Members of The Intel Distillery planned to attend industry events this week. We made the North American Meat Institute’s annual meat conference in Nashville and a Politico Live event in Chicago, but New Hope Network’s Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, was postponed.

  • Team Leader Betsy Rado traveled to the meat conference where she observed a presentation on grocery retail trends from McMillan Doolittle’s Neil Stern, who reassured audience members: “Physical retail isn’t dying. Bad retail is.”
  • Content specialists Kyle Church and Courtney Sprewer attended Politico’s “America’s Environmental Future: On the Menu — The Food System of the Future.” The three panelists discussed bringing together citizens, farmers, cooks and lawmakers to collaborate on a food system that serves everyone. Chef Rick Bayless commented: “It was actually the farmers that taught me about sustainability.”
  • New Hope Network announced on March 2 that Expo West is “officially postponed, with the intention to announce, by mid-April, a new date.” Would-be participants expressed collective disappointment in the missed opportunities and New Hope’s communications.
  • Before the organizer postponed the show, KIND CEO Daniel Lubetzky offered a scathing critique on LinkedIn, soliciting 3,800 engagements. He called out New Hope for “missing the mark” with regards to show participants’ well-being.

Coronavirus Congestion

The effects of coronavirus are being felt across industries, but food and beverage companies’ dependency on global trade routes has made conducting business during the outbreak particularly difficult.

  • The Wall Street Journal described all the ways coronavirus is “upending the carefully calibrated logistics of global shipping.” U.S. distributors of meat, produce and even animal feed have complained of Chinese port congestion, causing significantly increases in the time and cost it takes to ship and store goods.
  • Food Safety News spoke with food scientists who agree, “coronavirus poses little danger from a foodborne illness perspective.”
  • Vox stressed the importance of washing your hands to prevent the spread of the virus. In Food Safety News, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears doubled down on that recommendation: “wash your hands, not your poultry.”
  • Chicago Tribune debunked this widely disseminated and decidedly made-up statistic from PR firm 5WPR: “38 percent of beer-drinking Americans would not buy Corona under any circumstances now.” (It should be noted, however, 5WPR once handled PR for competitor Anheuser Busch.)
  • In reference to the false statistics, Corona’s parent company, Constellation Brands, stressed “these claims simply do not reflect our business performance and consumer sentiment.”

DISTILLED PERSPECTIVE, Vol. 1: What’s up with dairy?


An Intel Distillery subscriber asked “What’s going on with dairy these days?”
First of all, thank you for asking. And second, quite a bit actually.


Between the poor weather of 2019, increased competition from milk alternatives, labeling, trade issues in North America and Asia, shuttering of small-scale operations and major brand bankruptcies, the dairy sector has commanded an outsized share of the spotlight of late:

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

The Future of Petri Meat

On February 28, senior leaders from the cell-cultured meat companies that make up the Alliance for Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation contributed to an opinion piece in Food Dive. The article applauded U.S. food innovation and advocated for taking the same approach when deciding how to feed growing future populations more efficiently. The authors forecasted “Cell-based meat and seafood won’t replace conventional livestock production and fishing, but it will be an undeniably valuable part of the solution.”

Paper or Plastic

On March 1, New York state’s plastic bag ban was set to go into effect, but it was delayed by a lawsuit from an association of bodega owners and a plastic-bag manufacturer. The Wall Street Journal captured the public’s response to the bag ban and interviewed a few store owners on their plans to comply … or not.

Dine-in DOA

The Counter looked at the decline in full-service restaurant traffic and other industry trends to forecast what the future of the restaurant industry might look like, especially for independent operations. “In the tradition of Big Ag, Big Pharma, and Big Tobacco, we could be headed into the era of Big Menu.”

Peanut Cures

Good news for parents and kids who suffer from peanut allergies. On January 31, the FDA approved Palforzia, the first drug proven to “mitigate” (not cure) allergic reactions to peanuts in children. Health.com interviewed doctors from the FDA and Providence Saint John’s Health Center, to provide a more scientific explanation of how the drug works.

Future of Food Safety

Food Safety News recapped FDA deputy commissioner Frank Yiannis’ speech at this year’s Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference. Yiannis promoted the FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” a more interdisciplinary approach to food safety that focuses on “science- and risk-based standards for the production and transportation of domestic and imported foods.”

Shifting to Sustainability

Instead of the “detailed, intricate discussions of farm policy stances” that typically dominate the conversation at the annual Commodity Classic, Agri-Pulse noted that commodity groups representing corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum shifted focus to address sustainability goals.

Mormon Crickets

The Associated Press reported on crop-destroying Mormon crickets, which are “named after Mormon pioneers whose forage and grain fields were devoured by the insects.” The pests hatched early this year and are expected to show up in Western states Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and, of course, Utah. Bad news for Mormon and non-Mormon farmers alike.

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February 25, 2020
Quarterly Report:

Digging Deeper: Beyond the Top Ten Topics

report preview image

The Intel Distillery publishes quarterly reports on the Top Ten Topics discussed by leading voices in the food and beverage space — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This report looks at topics 11-20 to sample other important conversations that didn’t make the Top Ten cut.

Given our interconnected food system, this summary provides a deeper dive into issues affecting what we eat, how we eat it and where it originates.

  • Antibiotics topped this second tier as companies committed to reducing or eliminating antibiotic use in livestock in supply chains.
  • Organics continued to rise, but conversations about the label fell due to interest in competing movements.
  • Niche production drew investments from foodservice companies as states rolled out laws on housing for egg-laying hens.

Download our latest Focus Feature for more of the most-discussed topics in food and ag. This content comes from The Intel Distillery: your essential source for food industry analysis and intelligence.

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February 21, 2020
Friday by Noon:

Food, Feed & Fiber

If the only constant is change, this week was aggressively constant.

  • Dairy Farmers of America to buy bankrupt Dean Foods.
  • Farming groups launch new sustainability org.
  • Food brands shift policies.

“Livestock and crop production are the heart of American agriculture, providing the food we enjoy every day. Ensuring this production continues sustainably is essential for people and the planet.”

Farmers for a Sustainable Future

MOOving forward

On February 17, the country’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), struck a $425 million deal to acquire Dean Foods, which declared bankruptcy in November 2019.

  • DFA President and CEO Rick Smith listed “secure markets for our members’ milk and minimal disruption to the U.S. dairy industry” as reasons for pursuing the deal.
  • While the two parties have come to an agreement, the deal is still pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. The New York Times highlighted possible conflicts of interest and antitrust violations.
  • Feedstuffs noted the agreement is still subject to higher or otherwise better offers. The deadline for other interested parties to be considered a potential bidder is March 31.
  • The International Brotherhood of Teamsters updated its union members about developments in the deal.

A Sustainable Birth Announcement

On February 21, 21 industry groups representing a wide array of food producers formed Farmers for a Sustainable Future (FSF). The initiative focuses on “producing the world’s food, feed and fiber supply in a sustainable way.” The next day, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the “Agriculture Innovation Agenda” — a promise by the USDA to “stimulate innovation” so American ag can simultaneously increase production by 40% and cut farmers’ environmental impact in half by 2050.

  • FarmProgress summarized FSF’s guiding principles. The group is prioritizing science-based research, conservation programs, investment in infrastructure, and “solutions that ensure vibrant rural communities and a healthy planet.”
  • Brownfield Ag News advanced the idea that the group’s true purpose is “to serve as a primary resource for lawmakers and policymakers as they consider climate policies.”
  • The organization launched a Twitter account, but has only introduced itself and retweeted partner content from the cotton, rice, corn and beef industries.
  • On the subject of climate policy, Politico‘s coverage of the USDA announcement called out the initiative’s omission of any mention of climate change. Claiming “instead, it will focus on research, innovation and improving USDA’s ability to collect data on farmers’ conservation practices.”
  • AgWeb also cited the original reporting from Politico that accused the USDA of suppressing climate change research in its coverage of Thursday’s announcement.

Keeping Up with the Nestlés

The Intel Distillery carefully tracks food industry positions on sourcing, ingredients and practices. Recent policy change has focused on environmental stewardship, farm animal care, packaging and worker issues. These policies — which often cite consumer interest or activist pressure as their genesis — affect food trends down the supply chain. 2020 has already seen a handful of announcements from noteworthy food service companies and manufacturers.

  • Taco Bell vowed to use recyclable, compostable or reusable materials for consumer-facing packaging by 2025. (1/9/20)
  • Popeyes committed to “a set of standards that will meaningfully improve chicken welfare in the company’s supply chain” no later than 2024. (1/17/20)
  • A coalition of major North American berry producers committed to 100% recycle-ready packaging by 2025. (2/4/20)
  • Hershey’s will source cage-free eggs across all countries and divisions by 2025. (2/7/20)
  • Unilever pledged to stop marketing and advertising foods and beverages to children under the age of 12 by the end of 2020. (2/11/20)
  • Perdue reached its goal of providing outdoor access in 25% of its chicken houses by January 2020. (2/18/20)
  • Burger King removed artificial preservatives from its Whopper and artificial colors and flavors from all core menu sandwiches in most of Europe and select U.S. markets. (2/19/20)
  • Hormel will no longer process hogs given ractopamine (a growth promotant) as of April 2020. (2/18/20)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

A Bigger Table

Food Business News covered the launch of Bigger Table, a nonprofit organization that brings together Chicagoland food and beverage companies with a shared mission of fighting food insecurity. Ten companies, including members of Bader Rutter’s Intel Distillery team, pooled their formulation, ingredient, packaging and marketing know-how to develop the first Bigger Table product: a low-sugar, high-protein hot cocoa product.

Top-shelf Analytics

In the past, the data technology that predicted emerging retail shopping trends was expensive and exclusive to major brands. On February 19, The Wall Street Journal’s Annie Gasparro wrote that smaller players have instead begun using their own proprietary research, leaving big brands to re-evaluate retail strategies.

Bug Butter

Food & Wine tried to convince readers of the benefits of a new kind of butter replacement: insect fat. The article cites a study conducted at Ghent University in Belgium that describes insect-based fat as a sustainable and healthy alternative to butter. Reportedly, “When in bakery products, less than half of the butter is replaced by insect fat, one can hardly taste the difference.”

What’s Eating America<br>

On February 16, chef and television personality Andrew Zimmern debuted “What’s Eating America” on MSNBC. The limited-run series will feature Zimmern traveling across the country to explore “the most provocative social and political issues impacting voters through the lens of food.” Topics highlighted in the teaser range from immigration and climate change to voting rights and health care.

Food as Medicine

Dr. Dhruv Khullar — physician and assistant professor of hospital medicine and health care policy at Weill Cornell — penned a perspective in The Washington Post promoting food as a “tastier and potentially more ­cost-effective treatment” for chronic disease. Dr. Khullar points to diet as a key driver of illness in the United States and uses the article to highlight programs with meal plans designed to support the patient’s nutritional needs.

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February 14, 2020
Friday by Noon:

All’s Fair in Love and Food?

For most people, this week is all about spreading the love. However, the food and ag world faced:

  • A federal budget backlash.
  • A fried chicken frenzy.
  • A meat aisle melee.

“Americans dining out on Valentine’s Day will find there is a price on love that keeps moving higher.”

Sarah Chaney and Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal

Budget Backlash

On February 10, President Trump unveiled his 2021 budget proposal. While many influential food and agriculture groups disapproved the proposed budget, Congress has the final say.

  • Politico provided a helpful summary of the possible effects on food, agriculture and trade.
  • The New York Times claimed that the budget “[would cut] SNAP funding by about $15 billion from last year.”
  • National Association of Wheat Growers President Ben Scholz confirmed the group “will continue to impress upon Congress the difficult economic conditions in wheat country and thus why these programs shouldn’t be cut through the budget and appropriations process.”
  • National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said that the proposed budget “has failed to address the very real economic challenges facing rural communities” for the fourth year in a row.
  • However, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue released a statement applauding “President Trump’s pro-growth policies like tax cuts, common-sense deregulation, and new trade deals.”

Fried Chicken Frenzy

The fried chicken wars of 2019 are flying high well into this new year. Americans just love the fried yardbird as it’s leading sales for national chains and gaining popularity on breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

  • KFC unveiled a pair of $59.99 bucket-of-chicken-themed platform Crocs via the company’s YouTube channel. The shoes are even fried chicken-scented.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News reported Popeyes, which “used to be a lower profile brand for Restaurant Brands International,” has become an important driver of sales in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to its viral chicken sandwich.
  • Wendy’s wanted in too. On February 4, the brand announced a nationwide rollout of a breakfast menu that features a crispy chicken biscuit.
  • Los Angeles Times food writer Jenn Harris debuted “The Bucket List,” a series dedicated to fried chicken in Los Angeles. For her first feature, she interviewed chef Sang Yoon about the science behind making delicious fried chicken.

Can’t Judge a Meat by Its Package

In the battle for grocery store shelves and consumers’ plates, decision-makers on both sides of the divide faced off over plant-based meat alternative labeling issues.

  • Republican members of Maryland’s state senate proposed a bill that seeks to prevent cell-cultured meats from being labeled as meat if “the product contains animal tissue cultured from animal cells outside the animal from which the tissue is derived or is made from plants or insects.”
  • The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association partnered with The Center for Consumer Freedom to survey 1,800 consumers about plant-based meat, finding “widespread consumer confusion regarding the ingredient composition and purported benefits of plant-based fake meat products.” CNBC provided more context.
  • Plant-based food manufacturer Miyoko’s Kitchen sued the state of California for violating the company’s first amendment rights by ordering the company to “remove truthful messages and images from its website and its product labels.”

Worth Reading

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Pollination Nation

On February 11, Food Politics writer Marion Nestle offered a collection of recent material from USDA, Food Navigator, The Guardian and The California Almond Board that made the case for better oversight of trucking bee colonies to pollination sites. Agriculture methods like the ones used to produce almonds can take a heavy toll on bee populations, and organic beekeepers blame “large-scale mechanization of one of nature’s most delicate natural processes” for colony collapses.

Foam Friends and Foes

The New York Times profiled the Dart Container Corporation, a family-owned business that produces white foam single-use containers. Critics label these and other single-use Dart products as “environmental blights contributing to the world’s plastic pollution problem.” To clean up its reputation, Dart is broadening its offerings, focusing on recyclable alternatives and speaking out against those looking to scapegoat foam products.

All-Star Weekend: Flavortown Edition

As part of All-Star weekend in Chicago, Food & Wine reported that celebrity chefs José Andrés and Guy Fieri will take part in the NBA’s All-Star Celebrity game. Fieri will be assistant coaching alongside sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, while Andrés will be in on the action, playing on “Team Wilbon” with the likes of rapper Common and Latin music star Bad Bunny.

Grocery Store Report Card

U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (U.S. PIRG) published a report on grocery stores’ policies and consumer notification plans for food recalls. PIRG polled 26 top grocery retailers about their recall practices, and only gave four stores a passing grade of C: Target, Kroger, Harris Teeter and Smith’s. Fast Company reported on the findings, advising consumers to sign up for FDA recall alerts and USDA recall alerts.

Fit or Fat?

On February 5, NPD Group found that “half of U.S. consumers want to lose weight and over a quarter follow a diet plan to do it.” On February 10, a report from The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that “by 2030, nearly one in two adults will be obese, and nearly one in four will be severely obese.”

Will You Feed My Valentine?

Looking for an easy last-minute way to celebrate Valentine’s day at your office? Quick! Check out this Los Angeles Times article before your co-workers get to the bottom of this newsletter. Cooking editor Genevieve Ko has provided a set of Valentine’s Day recipe cards to pass out like when you were in elementary school. (Hopefully, your coworkers get the hint and bring you delicious Valentine’s-themed treats Monday.)

A Pricey Night Out and More

On February 14, Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Chaney and Heather Haddon compared food prices and wages over the past decade and lamented that this year’s Valentine’s Day dinner will cost more. Then again, we consider a Valentine’s Day meal an investment.

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January 31, 2020
Friday by Noon:

Sickness, Health and Hard Work

“At the turn of the 21st Century and beyond, foodborne hazards are well known. People understand what you can’t see can kill you. It wasn’t always that way.”

Coral Beach, managing editor, Food Safety News

Keeping Stock of Coronavirus

Coronavirus continues to spread infection and fear throughout food production worldwide. On January 30, The World Health Organization declared the disease a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”

  • In its January 29 coverage of a speech by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Reuters reported, “The virus has cast further doubt on China’s ability to buy $36.5 billion of U.S. agricultural goods in 2020.”
  • Food Business News quoted McCormick & Co. CEO Lawrence E. Kurzius: “Certainly, the reduction in people traveling, being able to go out to eat, being able to shop at the grocery stores is not a positive for our business.”
  • Ever the opportunists, the activist group PETA linked the spread of coronavirus to consumption of meat, and encouraged readers to “go vegan now.”
  • In a company earnings release published January 28, Starbucks acknowledged, “The dynamic situation our partners in China are navigating as health officials respond to the coronavirus.” The Wall Street Journal added Starbucks “faces a new threat to business in China after temporarily closing more than half of its stores.”
  • Citing a January 29 earnings call, Bloomberg noted, “All of McDonald’s restaurants in the cities of Wuhan, Ezhou, Huanggang, Qianjiang and Xiantao closed as of Jan. 24.”
  • Bloomberg attributed the “surging number” of Wuhan coronavirus cases in China to “wet markets, where sales of freshly slaughtered, unpackaged meat have become the focus of an investigation into an outbreak of a potentially deadly lung virus.”

What’s Working for Workers?

Workers and labor relations issues continue to be a persistent theme impacting food production. A number of important discussions will affect working conditions on farms, in production facilities and throughout distribution channels. Immigration, plant safety, farm worker conditions and child labor took the spotlight this week.

  • On January 27, Service Employees Union International President Rocio Sáenz called the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of income-based restrictions on immigrant visas “cruel and inhumane.”
  • On January 18, Western Growers Association broke down the new joint-employer requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Meatingplace spoke to a representative from The American Federation of Government Employees who sounded off about USDA’s recent inquiry regarding contracts for food safety inspectors.
  • Civil Eats discussed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and cited its potential to “stabilize the agricultural labor force and provide legal status to more than a million undocumented farmworkers.”
  • The New York Times addressed the 13,253 child-labor violations Massachusetts leveled against Chipotle that resulted in more than $1.35 million in fines.

A Public Hero

On January 28, PBS debuted The Poison Squad, a documentary about chemist Dr. Harvey Wiley, on its American Experience series. The film describes a time near the turn of the last century when the government did not regulate food production. Dr. Wiley recruited a team of volunteers who consumed potentially harmful food additives to study their effects and, in doing so, gained celebrity status. Their efforts eventually led to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the creation of the FDA.

  • The same day, Eater posted an interview with Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum, the author of the corresponding book: “Today, the European system is precautionary, this appears to be dangerous; the American system is more, people aren’t dropping in the streets so we’re going to permit it.”
  • On January 29, Food Safety News editor Coral Beach called the piece “a provocative piece that will stun you.”
  • Modern Farmer synopsized the documentary and listed some of the preservatives commonly used at the time — including borax and formaldehyde — adding, “thankfully, nobody died from the experiments.”

“Every year, Americans spend something like $35 billion on vitamins, minerals, botanicals and various other substances that are touted as health-giving but mostly do nothing at all. Nothing at all!”

Tamar Haspel, columnist, The Washington Post

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Food Industry Flippy-flop

On January 28, Food & Wine reported Flippy, the burger-flipping robot from Miso Robotics, had received a functional redesign to better suit it for work in high-volume restaurant kitchens and close quarters. Miso Robotics CEO Buck Jordan told the publication, “[Flippy ROAR] is half the cost, zero footprint, and can now cook more than a dozen foods.”

Chicken Little

On January 28, Bloomberg reported that chickens under 4.25 pounds are in short supply thanks to 2019’s fast-food chicken sandwich wars. Animal-protein economist Will Sawyer, told the publication “whatever demand growth we might have on smaller breasts, there’s no new supply to meet that demand … Everyone wants a bite out of that market.”

Supplementing Misinformation

“Supplements have very few benefits and some serious risks,” Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel wrote, “so why do Americans spend $35 billion on them every year?” Haspel spoke to various health professionals and concluded that “people feel comfortable with herbs and other botanicals, and they feel empowered by the idea that they make these choices for themselves.” Haspel was reluctant to dismiss supplements across the board, but suggests instead putting your supplement budget toward nutrient-rich whole foods like lentils.

Plan(e)t Health

On January 27, USDA declared 2020 as the “International Year of Plant Health.” The agency warns, “plants are under attack by invasive pests … that leaves millions of people worldwide without enough food to eat and seriously damages agriculture.” To help negate this, USDA suggests keeping an eye out for unusual signs of pests or disease, gathering firewood responsibly, contacting your local authorities before buying seeds or plants online from abroad, and declaring agricultural items to U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon return from international travel.

All You Should Eat

The Hustle broke down the economics of all-you-can-eat-buffets in the January 28 edition of its daily newsletter. Buffets operate on very thin margins and leverage labor costs, foot traffic, volume of food and waste reduction to ensure profitability. Even if you follow the instructions in their name and eat all you can, “turns out, it’s harder to ‘beat’ the buffet than you might think.”

Not So New Food Economy

As of January 30, The New Food Economy will henceforth be known as The Counter. In their explanation for the shift, the editors explained: “In 2020 the new food economy isn’t really new anymore … and the broad, transformational values that once felt niche to some … are no longer fringe concerns. They’ve gone fully mainstream, and the stories we cover make front-page news.”

Bipartisan Candy

The New York Times breaking news reporter Neil Vigdor posted a lively read last week on the snack situation for U.S. senators during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. “It consists of milk, water and candy, the only food allowed onto the Senate floor under the chamber’s staid rules, which don’t allow senators to drink coffee, either,” Vigdor explains. Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.) keeps the stash in his drawer and shares with parties on both sides of the aisle. Hooray bi-partisanship!

No, You Can’t Get a 6-pack of Coronavirus

A number of publications have reported on a disheartening trend reported in Google Trends. A statistically significant amount of people all over the world have been searching for the terms “Corona virus” and “beer virus” since January 19 in what looks like a case of horrific misidentification. This is not something marketing classes prepare you for.

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January 30, 2020
Quarterly Report:

Top Ten Topics: 2019 in Food Production (Full Report)

We are proud to share our latest Top Ten Topics Report.

As 2019 progressed, leaders in the food industry turned attention to the global impacts of food production — through trade and environment — overtaking upstream production and policy concerns. Protein also served as a catalyst for discussion, as the nutrient’s popularity set the stage for debates about non-meat protein alternatives.

2019-in-Review

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January 28, 2020
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Top Ten Topics: 2019 in Review (Summary)

We are proud to share our latest Top Ten Topics Report.

As 2019 progressed, leaders in the food industry turned attention to the global impacts of food production — through trade and environment — overtaking upstream production and policy concerns. Protein also served as a catalyst for discussion, as the nutrient’s popularity set the stage for debates about non-meat protein alternatives. This download is a two-page executive summary of the full report, which is available upon request.

2019-in-Review

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