August 7, 2020
Believers, Critics and Skeptics
Continued interest in packaged goods and meat products and renewed interest in bioengineered foods dominated influential conversations this week.
- Ice cream, cake mixes and miniature cheesecakes lead CPG trends.
- Meat companies defend COVID-19 responses and production practices.
- A lawsuit triggered new discussions around GMO labeling.
“We’re putting our orange-dusted fingerprints on an at-home staple at a time when home mealtime occasions are on the rise.”Rachel Ferdinando, Frito-Lay North America (Newswire)
The renaissance of big food brands and consumers rediscovering the center of the store due to the pandemic is well-documented. A few new proof points emerged to support this ongoing trend.
- Kate Dennis from the Consumer Brands Association discussed trust in corporate brands, highlighting the organization’s latest consumer survey: “Nearly half (47%) of consumers say their trust in CPG has grown during the pandemic.”
- With the pandemic continuing to drive at-home consumption of foods like Progresso soups and Betty Crocker cake mixes, General Mills is working with a total of 240 co-manufacturers to keep up with demand (Food Processing).
- New variations on ice cream drew attention, including a plant-based ice cream that offers “zero sacrifice” from consumers (Food Dive) and a New York law that lifts the ban on hard liquor in ice cream formulas (Food Safety News).
- Food Business News covered the launch of Sara Lee mini cheesecakes and interviewed CMO Ryan Malone, who said, “We’re pleased to answer increasing consumer demand for ‘touchless snacking’ with our innovative packaging that helps consumers feel confident about the safety of their food.”
- PepsiCo/Frito-Lay put the Cheeto into mac ‘n’ cheese: “Made with authentic Cheetos cheesiness using Chester’s Top-Secret Seasoning, the corkscrew pasta noodles are even inspired by Chester’s cheetah tail.” Food & Wine called the product “enjoyable.”
- Not sure how this one slipped by on July 6, but thanks to heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs, it’s now safe to eat Pillsbury Cookie Dough raw. A grateful nation heads for the freezers.
Despite returning to pre-pandemic meat production levels, meat companies are the focus of ongoing attention, facing harsh criticism over responses to COVID-19, industry consolidation concerns and farming and processing practices.
- In an August 2 New York Times ad, Smithfield Foods praised its 42,000 essential employees, dubbed the “doers,” and took aim at critics for perpetuating a “false narrative” regarding worker and operational safeguards during the pandemic.
- Influential voices fired back, including Food and Environmental Reporting Network’s Leah Douglas, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle.
- Agricultural economist Jayson Lusk explored the potential for meat supply disruption in a more diversified meat industry. He concluded, “We have a trade-off between the likelihoods of producing the maximum vs. preventing the worst possible outcomes.”
- Food Business News reported that COVID-related costs hurt Tyson Foods’ Q3 earnings and that its current president, Dean Banks, will succeed Noel White as chief executive officer on October 3.
- Friends of the Earth filed suit against the third-largest poultry company, Sanderson Farms, alleging its use of “all natural” equates to false advertising.
- Food Safety News editor Dan Flynn asserted that processing plant line speeds are “being blamed by the union representing 250,000 meatpacking and food plant workers as key to the pandemic deaths experienced by the industry.”
- Livestock marketing specialist Derrell Peel provided a macroeconomics lesson on beef demand during the pandemic.
GMO Labeling Redux
Proponents of organic foods once again raised concerns about the labeling of bioengineered foods — an umbrella term that includes genetically engineered (GE) and gene-edited foods as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here’s some background — expect more intense conversation soon.
- After Congress required labels in a 2016 law, the USDA developed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard that will take effect on January 1, 2022. Many groups dislike the current labeling law, but food manufacturers and retailers preferred the nationwide standard to a state-by-state approach.
- On July 28, a group led by Center for Food Safety and Natural Grocers sued the USDA for failing to follow all of the mandates in the 2016 law and allowing the use of QR codes instead of on-package labels.
- Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell objected, “Banning the use of the term [GMO foods] and replacing it with a term nobody has ever heard of is misleading.”
- Former FDA Director Henry Miller, MD, shared commentary that he had published in Nature last year: “Longstanding consensus in the scientific community [is] that mandatory labeling fails every test — scientific, economic, legal and common-sense.”
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
‘Twilight of the Imperial Chef’
New York Times food critic Tejal Rao penned a feature on the decline of “the imperial chef,” reflecting on the often-abusive atmosphere of restaurants run by celebrity chefs. Rao suggests, “As restaurant workers organize and speak up about abusive workplaces, toxic bosses and inequities in pay and benefits, it’s clear that the restaurant industry has to change.”
“Know where you can get dry ice or block ice,” advised the USDA as hurricane season ramps up. Food Safety News added other seasonal tips for keeping food safe in the event of severe wind, rain, floods and power outages.
Trader José Is OK
On July 24, Trader Joe’s corporate office posted a statement addressing the change.org petition to re-brand the retailer’s ethinic brands: “We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions.” The Associated Press covered the announcement, leaning heavily on quotes from Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel and Briones Bedell, the San Francisco Bay Area high schooler who started the petition.
Sick in the Valley
Modern Farmer’s Dan Nosowitz examined the alarming rate of farm workers infected with COVID-19 in California’s Central Valley. The concern is real: “Though it makes up less than a percent of the country’s agricultural land, it produces about eight percent of the country’s agriculture by dollar value.”
State Fair, in a Box
Food & Wine explained all the ways you can experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the storied Minnesota State Fair. That includes bringing fair food home: “If you still can’t stop thinking about cheese curds or daydreaming about mini-doughnuts, you’re still in luck. A quick-thinking Minnetonka business put together ‘State Fair to Go’ food kits, which allow you to not only bring the taste of the fair into your own home, you can also cook everything on your own time too.” They have yet to create a home version of the Princess Kay butter sculptures.
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