Change is imminent for the most influential voices in food production and the topics they discuss.

  • Grocers adapt business strategies competing for their share of food dollars.
  • Water — food production’s most precious resource — remains a moving target.
  • FDA made good on its commitment to address food amid a tough season of safety concerns.

Retail Tug of War

Big moves are changing the grocery games as we speak. With mergers and acquisitions making headlines and both supermarkets and restaurants vying for a slice of the consumer budget, the retail industry is taking the front seat in this week’s edition. 

  • In the ever-evolving landscape of the American grocery industry, ALDI U.S. CEO Jason Hart talked with Winsight Grocery Business about the company’s growth and recent purchase of 400 Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarkets locations. 
  • However, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone opposed the merger and any business deal that further consolidates the grocery industry, claiming such deals are a “clear threat to both workers and consumers.”
  • The grocery industry is facing another significant development: the pending merger between Kroger and Albertsons. This move has the potential to further intensify competition within the industry, explained Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert. 
  • Speaking of the Kroger-Albertsons merger, a consumer lawsuit against the pending merger between Kroger and Albertsons was dismissed by a U.S. district judge in San Francisco on August 4. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs, representing various states, did not explain how the merger would personally affect them and lacked standing to challenge it.
  • A group of state officials wrote to the Federal Trade Commission on August 16, urging the agency to stop the proposed $24.6 billion merger. The seven secretaries of state claimed the merger would give the combined entity control over a quarter of the U.S. food retail market, potentially harming competition and consumers. 
  • The National Grocers Association published its 2023 Independent Grocers Financial Study, finding that small grocers are holding their own despite the sector’s push toward consolidation.
  • In today’s competitive battleground for consumer food dollars, supermarkets and restaurants are vying for consumers’ food budgets (The Wall Street Journal). Grocery chains are reimagining prepared meals, expanding menus, and offering discounts to entice diners away from restaurants. Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle shared and analyzed USDA data comparing dollars spent on food-at-home versus food-away-from-home. Spoiler: It’s a tie.

Fluid Situations

Water was declared “the oil of the 21st century” 15 years ago by Andrew Liveris, then CEO of Dow AgroSciences (The Economist). The prediction has borne out recently, with fights brewing over the regulation of water around farming operations and low precipitation limiting global food supplies.

  • On August 15, the EPA denied two petitions from activist groups that sought to increase regulation of water supplies around large livestock operations. Instead, the EPA created a subcommittee to conduct “a comprehensive evaluation” before undertaking any changes to its rules.
  • Agriculturalists welcomed the decision, with National Pork Producers Council President Scott Hays stating, “Farmers work hard every day to adopt climate-smart farming practices by promoting soil health, conserving water, using nutrients efficiently and caring for our animals.”
  • Tarah Heinzen, legal director of environmentalist group Food & Water Watch, retorted: “The lack of urgency displayed in EPA’s decision doubles down on the agency’s failure to protect our water, and those who rely on it.”
  • Pivoting to the weather: Drought is restricting the ability to ship food and agriculture goods through the Panama Canal. The Scoop reported that U.S. commodity exports and imports account for 73% of the canal’s traffic.
  • The Associated Press explained the El Niño weather pattern’s effect on global rice production — a problem that has been exacerbated by India limiting exports during a time of short supply.
  • Meanwhile, Hurricane Hilary spared food producers in California, with wind speeds falling to tropical storm levels by the time the system hit the central valley. Ocean Mist Farms Vice President Jeff Percy told Agri-Pulse: “If it had been a month later, it would have been a disaster.”

Jonesing for Food Safety

After two passes at reorganizing its human food program, the FDA named James Jones, a 20-year EPA veteran who had recently stepped into the private sector, as the segment’s first leader on August 24. Additionally, an array of foodborne illness outbreaks and related concerns have cropped up:

  • FDA names first deputy commissioner for proposed, unified human foods program | FDA
  • James Jones to lead FDA food program after infant formula crisis | Bloomberg
  • FDA public meeting on modernizing recalls | Food Processing
  • Milkshakes from a Tacoma burger joint tied to listeria outbreak that killed 3 people | NPR
  • CDC: New strain of E. coli is behind outbreaks traced to lettuce | The Washington Post
  • Salmonella in poultry issue isn’t going to be over until Marler says its over | Food Safety News
  • Mexican producers overcame training, lab challenges to meet [Food Safety Modernization Act] requirements, USDA says | Agri-Pulse

Worth Reading

Flipping the Script on Tipped Wage

Should waitstaff and other restaurant workers who earn tips get a raise on minimum wage? As detailed by The Wall Street Journal, this is a hot topic of debate among Chicago lawmakers. While a municipal minimum wage would help workers when business is slow, the same can’t always be said for restaurant owners still recovering from inflation and the pandemic’s financial impact. Several cities and states have eliminated the tipped minimum wage in the past — will others do the same?

Menu Tactics Go Subconscious

A new X-factor may be driving patrons to choose healthier menu items when dining out: font size. ScienceDaily reported that results from a Washington State University study indicates that using larger fonts to spotlight lower calorie counts of certain menu items may lead consumers to order more nutritional meals. As operators work to dispel the stereotype that “healthy” menu items fall short on taste, could these findings help maximize their profitability?

Celebrating ‘Our Current Era of Virtuous Fats’

In her debut piece in Eater, food writer Marian Bull doled out some heavy criticism of “farm eggs.” Positioned as a super-premium product, these eggs — some with very dark orange yolks — can command retail prices upward of $10 per dozen. “We have become so desperate for the all-natural, I realized, that we will pay a premium for its simulacra.” Also: The Washington Post explained why Americans need to refrigerate eggs. 

The Perfect Scoop

Los Angeles Times test kitchen coordinator Julie Giuffrida waxed poetic about the art of scooping ice cream in a piece examining the best available scoopers on the market. She also espoused some ice cream shop knowledge in the process: “Our perfectly round ice cream balls also had to be hollow (to give the appearance of more ice cream than there really was in the globule atop the cone).” Ouch. The truth hurts.