January 27, 2023
Beating Up Consumers
The past two weeks have been busy in the food world, kicking up conversations around:
- Soaring egg prices
- Unsafe baby food
- Robust retail and foodservice activity
Shelling Out Big Bucks
While many have adjusted to food price inflation, one grocery staple recently eggceeded eggspectations. Sticker shock provoked more than the usual chatter over rising egg prices the past two weeks.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed egg prices increasing by 138% from December 2021 to the same month in 2022, reaching a record-high national average of $4.25 per dozen.
- The Associated Press cited avian flu as a major factor, with the loss of 43 million laying hens over the course of the past year.
- American Egg Board President and CEO Emily Metz countered, “When you’re looking at fuel costs go up, and you’re looking at feed costs go up as much as 60%, labor costs, packaging costs — all of that … those are much much bigger factors than bird flu for sure.”
- Advocacy group Farm Action cried fowl. The group wrote to FTC chair Lina Kahn, arguing “The real culprit behind this … appears to be a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits.”
- Some savvy consumers hatched a plan to circumvent the price hikes by taking advantage of Mexican markets. NPR reported that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has cracked down on egg smuggling. At a 24¢/egg margin, it would only take 104 dozen eggs to break even with one $300 fine.
- The Washington Post’s Becky Krystal suggested substitutes for more law-abiding citizens.
- Supermarket News suggested that retailers lead with egg sale prices on social media. It’s always good to highlight eggstra savings (okay, we’ll stop now).
Gross ≠ Unsafe
Food safety developments ran the gamut from the FDA’s continued implosion to lead levels in baby food to eating potentially toxic animal lungs. Ewww.
- FoodFix reported that Frank Yiannas, FDA’s food safety leader, tendered his resignation on January 25, citing dysfunctional leadership structure at the agency. His departure follows the baby formula crisis and a series of mishaps at the FDA.
- In a development in the baby formula crisis, an Abbott Laboratories spokesperson confirmed that the company was under investigation by the Department of Justice concerning several illnesses and up to nine deaths associated with the company’s Similac product (The Hill).
- On January 24, the FDA issued a draft guidance limiting levels of lead in baby and toddler foods to 20 parts per billion, about a 25% reduction. “The proposed action levels announced … will result in long-term, meaningful and sustainable reductions in the exposure to this contaminant from foods,” added FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD. Wait … they allow lead in baby food?!?
- The Daily Show correspondent Wanda Sykes shared a TV news report on Twitter covering the guidance, adding, “Good news for babies, your food is about to taste a lot less like pennies.”
- Madeline Buiano, writing in Martha Stewart Living, summarized a Journal of Food Protection study that found spice jars to be kitchens’ most contaminated surfaces. Other particularly dirty spots included cutting boards and trash can lids. Faucet handles got a clean bill of health.
- Philadelphia physician Jonathan Reisman petitioned the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to reconsider its ban on livestock lungs as human food (Food Safety News). “Food being ‘gross’ is not the same as it is unsafe,” suggested Reisman. Breathe easy people, this change is unlikely.
Food Channel Surfing
A handful of foodservice and retail news stories caught our attention and reflect some ongoing larger trends.
- Stop & Shop Launches Flashfood in More New England Locations | Progressive Grocer
- Dollar Stores Are Growing as Food Retailers in the U.S. | Tufts University
- Where did natural foods investments go? | New Hope Network
- Shift to Remote Work Puts Pressure on Chains Like Sweetgreen | The New York Times
- The Most Popular Fast Food in America’s Top College Towns | Broke Scholar
- Why Pizza Hut is smoking everyone in traffic | Nation’s Restaurant News
- Chipotle looks to hire 15,000 amid continuing labor shortage | The Associated Press
On January 10, the Washington Post Editorial Board worked over FDA commissioner Robert Califf and deputy commissioner Janet Woodcock on FDA’s recent blunders and his thoughts on a new agency dedicated to human food. The board laid on some hard questions: “If we don’t break up the FDA, then how can we ensure there is true reform in the human food division after years of problems? It wasn’t just the baby formula crisis last year, but going back to the 2016 Inspector General report warning of dangerously slow responses. The same problems come up over and over.”
It seems like just a couple weeks ago that 2022 ended, and already the USDA is preparing for 2025. The agency announced the new panel of advisers for the next set of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The group is bound to stir up debates over the next two years, with Food Processing Editor in Chief Dave Fusaro conjecturing that “conflicts of interest are suspected.” Former advisory committee member Marion Nestle lamented: “[The guidelines] don’t change enough from one edition to another to have to go through all this fuss.”
The National Organic Program announced its first major update since the label was established in 1990. The USDA issued a final rule on January 18 that will strengthen enforcement of the standard. Real Organic Project Co-director Dave Chapman explained to Civil Eats that while the rule “[addresses] one threat to organic integrity,” there are several certifiers that think the USDA program’s requirements are too lax.
On January 17, New York Times writers David Fahrenthold and Talmon Joseph Smith dug into the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA’s) ServSafe online food safety certification program. The article suggests foodservice workers are contributing to their own low wages, because one of NRA’s priorities is lobbying against minimum wage hikes. “More than 3.6 million workers have taken the training, providing about $25 million in revenue to the restaurant industry’s lobbying arm since 2010.” The next day, Nation’s Restaurant News described the alternative certification program Just.Safe.Food. from One Fair Wage, an organization that pushes for better pay for restaurant workers.
This Associated Press commentary about tipping made the social media rounds: “As more businesses adopt digital payment methods, customers are automatically being prompted to leave a gratuity — many times as high as 30% — at places they normally wouldn’t.” Friday by Noon is free, but hit that blue spoon above to help us feel the love.
Bake Magazine showcased global chocolatier Barry Callebaut’s three-tiered approach to uncover what consumers value in chocolate. “While there will always be a need for Intense Indulgence chocolate experiences, we expect consumers to shift towards a more healthier approach, increasing the Mindful Indulgence chocolate space,” remarked Bas Smit, Barry Callebaut’s head of marketing.
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