May 5, 2023
Bottom Line, Top of Mind
Leaders in food, beverage and agriculture spent the past week planning for the future:
- Big brands leverage leaders to make announcements and explanations.
- Congress is working on farm bill budgets.
- Food makers are innovating production methods.
Looking to Leadership
Prominent brands throughout the food supply chain made bold moves, sometimes calling in the C-suite as spokespeople to bolster positions and navigate tricky waters. In addition: a few noteworthy developments in new products, mergers and mea culpas.
- Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran and and Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen opined in The Cincinnati Enquirer (Kroger’s hometown rag) to advocate for the benefits, and dispel the myths, of the proposed merger. The piece focuses on jobs, store closings and food prices. On the flip side, The Economic Policy Institute said workers stand to lose $300 million in the deal.
- Food Business News editor Keith Nunes listened to a Starbucks earnings call; the coffee chain’s strategy to balance its in-store traffic with growing to-go and drive-thru customers. “To strengthen our health, we need to think of our business as having theaters to the front with a factory in the back,” said CEO Laxman Narasimhan.
- Another earnings call at Anheuser-Busch InBev revealed a pivot in its marketing efforts (The New York Times). After a Bud Light promotion featuring a transgender influencer created major blowback and loss of market share, CEO Michel Doukeris told analysts the company’s marketing efforts would focus on sports and music.
- Nation’s Restaurant News captured all the key details of Darden’s May 3 announcement of plans to acquire Ruth’s Chris Steak House for $715 million.
- Food Safety News detailed the fines paid by three McDonald’s franchises for violating national child labor laws. Meanwhile, meatpacker JBS created an internal division to clean its plants after a contractor was found to have children on the payroll (Reuters).
- Michelle Obama co-founded a children’s health company whose first product is a low-sugar beverage with added nutrients. The company and product are called PLEZi (Food Dive).
Farm Bills to Pay
It’s time for our monthly check-in on negotiations of the 2023 Farm Bill, which will be the single-largest piece of legislation affecting food and agriculture production for the next five years. Clearly the bottom line has been top of mind.
- Negotiating the bill is a long, arduous process, and this is the first farm bill for 50 of the 75 lawmakers involved. Agri-Pulse reporter Noah Wicks dug into the “learning curve” that the newcomers face. This is one of several reasons we limit our check-ins to once a month …
- On April 26, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a bill to cut budgets for several farm bill programs. Reuters noted that 1,800 food safety inspector positions could be cut. Food Fix writer Helena Bottemiller Evich explained the political hurdle of increasing work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps).
- American University hosted an April 26 webinar on nutrition policies in the bill, including speakers from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the “farm safety net” on May 2. Commodity groups, such as the American Soybean Association, argued for more comprehensive crop insurance and overseas promotion of goods.
- The Fence Post reported that both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union — industry groups whose visions often clash — agreed that subsidies need to be limited to “actively engaged” farmers.
- Politico highlighted conflicts of interest for lawmakers who also operate farms.
- Roll Call covered a budget-related push for Inflation Reduction Act conservation funds to be rolled into the farm bill. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) opposed the move as “devastating to farmers and would negatively impact the environmental quality of agricultural land.”
Tech on Deck
For an industry with a reputation as low tech, farming and food production boasts a dizzying amount of innovation. From gene editing to artificial intelligence, industry leaders are anticipating some big changes:
- Sausages from gene-edited pigs win provisional FDA nod | Meatingplace
- GM tomatoes are back … but now they come with health benefits | AgFunder News
- The SN News Quiz: 85% of you say digital shopping has really hurt loyalty | Supermarket News
- Minnesota restaurants, senior homes turn to robots amid labor shortage | Star Tribune
- How food retailers should use artificial intelligence | FMI, The Food Industry Association
- Colorado passes first US right to repair legislation for farmers | Reuters
- Growers spend $500,000 per year on automation | Western Growers Association
- AI-guided drones are opening a new future for farming | Bloomberg
- The new space jam: delivering 51 years of satellite data to America’s producers | The Scoop
Now You’re Cookin’ With Magnets
Gothamist detailed how New York state will soon become the first state to ban gas stoves in new homes and apartment buildings. This after Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.) introduced the unsuccessful, yet highly polarizing Gas Act, in January.
White Lotus star and deadpan comic Aubrey Plaza gained some attention following her appearance in a parody ad promoting “Wood Milk, the world’s first and only milk made from wood.” The promotion originated with MilkPEP, the industry group responsible for the once-ubiquitous milk-mustache campaign. AdWeek explained how this adds fuel to the dairy vs. plant-based milk feud.
As Washington Post writer Aaron Hutcherson observed, some food packaging designs can frustrate consumers, “but they can be a large hindrance to those with physical limitations.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Civil Eats elaborated on how dietary constraints and mobility disabilities factor into a wide array of food purchasing decisions. On top of that, “Almost 27% of disabled people live in poverty, nearly twice the rate of the general population, and that high poverty rate drives a high rate of food insecurity.”
Food & Wine, serving its recent purpose as curator of weird food-industry news, covered a massive, mysterious pile of pasta found in the Garden State. Someone — or something — dumped 500 pounds of cooked pasta, including elbow macaroni, spaghetti and ziti in a wooded area of Old Bridge, New Jersey, for reasons yet to be explained. Since the noodles could impact the pH of the local creek, the public works department cleaned it up and carried it away. A rare case of carb unloading.
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