December 21, 2021
Focus Feature:

The Three Factors That Will Shape Food Production in 2022

2022 in food

Over the past two years, persistent disruptions in supply chains and consumer behavior forced food producers to adapt far more quickly than usual. Yet brands have used the tumult to reshape sourcing policies, refocus how they define “good” and reframe their brand stories. We’ve seen three major trends dominate these changes and expect them to further shape the industry in 2022.

Climate Conversations

Next year promises to be a big year for action on climate-friendly policies as companies and countries follow up on commitments made at the U.N. Food Systems Summit and COP26. Lofty goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — particularly methane — may have distant deadlines of 2030 and 2050, but decision-makers are already planning how to adjust sourcing policies. On our 2022 weather map:

  • Research plans. Government and corporate leaders want to know that they’re pursuing the most effective solutions. Some have already increased funding commitments to universities and pilot programs to ensure their investments produce real results.
  • Corporate action. We expect to see more concrete actions as companies announce and establish programs to meet new sourcing guidelines. These changes will affect supply chains everywhere from farm stewardship to menu choices.
  • Weather’s climate tie-in. The consequences of climate change continue to impact supply chains. Widespread drought in the western United States will likely continue through 2022, forcing farmers to make difficult decisions and potentially limiting grocery store availability.

Pursuit of the Perfect Protein

While plant-based proteins stole the limelight in 2021, 2022 will set the stage for the market entry of cell-cultured proteins. As regulators establish safety and labeling standards, the speed of “cultivated meat” production reaching scale and consumers accepting these new products remain subjects of intense conjecture. Plant-based proteins won’t fade away, but cell-cultured options will bring fresh competition to an already-hot protein market. Look out for:

  • Plant-based competition. Growth of plant-based protein sales has slowed, but investments continue to pour into the sector. The plethora of new contenders in the market sets the stage for consolidation. We expect to see more of this over the next 12 months.
  • Cell-cultured protein regulation. After inviting public comment, the USDA is slated to publish rules for cell-cultured protein labeling next year. At the same time, the FDA is working to establish standards for safe production.
  • Meat marketing. Although many meat processors have hedged “protein portfolios” with investments in alternative proteins, we expect these companies to intensify messaging around their products’ tradition, nutrition and sustainability.

Workforce Undergirds Everything

The pandemic elevated workforce issues from an underlying concern to the dominant topic of conversation among industry leaders, and we expect that to continue. Farms, food processing and foodservice outlets all struggled to fill positions pre-pandemic, so the shortage of workers and wave of strikes only mean that workers will have a strong negotiating position going into 2022. Watch out for:

  • Worker shortages. After many left food industry jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, recovery for foodservice, processing and agriculture has trailed the economy as a whole.
  • Strikes and labor disputes. Momentum fromsuccessful strikes in late 2021 will further encourage unions to use the leverage of a tight labor market to fight for increased wages and benefits.
  • Pandemic safety. The omicron variant of COVID-19 has revived concerns about the safety of frontline workers. Meanwhile, employers await word on a legal battle over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

With these three topics proving so dominant in the national dialogue, we recommend all food and beverage marketers devote some time to formalizing their perspectives and policies on each. You do not necessarily have to take any actions now, but preparing for these to become potential issues in 2022 makes for a prudent practice. Proactivity beats reactivity every time.

Here’s wishing you and your business strength and prosperity in the coming year.

The Intel Distillery Team

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CSR evolution timeline

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Defining Good

Trends come and go, but one of the larger movements we’ve tracked over the years is how leaders in the food and beverage industry define “good.” By tracking conversations among the most influential voices in the industry, Intel Distillery analysis uncovered just how widely these definitions can vary. Factors have run the gamut from texture and flavor to ingredient lists and social agendas.

Graph comparing discussions of several facets of "good" food production.

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Influential Figures: A Peek at the Pundits

In an era when information is so readily available, which sources do you listen to? Bader Rutter established The Intel Distillery to pinpoint the most influential voices in food production, with the idea that understanding the source is often as important as the information itself.

In the graphic below, we map out the leanings of 40 organizations, media sources, industry associations and advocacy groups that frequently report or comment on developments in food production. While far from comprehensive, our sample represents a variety of stances. We plotted the groups according to two factors:

  • Reporting vs. Commentary: Refers to the primary type of content the source shares. While some sources focus on reporting developments in food production, others add more perspective on how their organization is affected.
  • Niche vs. Conventional: Refers to food production methods the source discusses most. “Conventional” sources represent traditional mass food production, while “niche” sources generally represent smaller-scale, progressive production such as organic, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, etc.
Influential sources plotted by stance and style
Click to enlarge

This chart compares some of the most prominent sources we follow and is subject to change. Media outlets include a variety of reporters, and editorial stances may shift over time. And, over time, we’ve seen several groups shift focus from reporting events to interpreting them.

Furthermore, we at The Intel Distillery consider ourselves experts on understanding how these groups relate to one another … but the exact position of any source is still a matter of opinion. We expect you’ll take everything with a grain of salt and welcome discussion.

Stay tuned for more charts like this that address other segments of food production!

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February 1, 2021
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Doing Good Despite Adversity

The pandemic and growing attention to social inequality presented opportunities to address important corporate social responsibility (CSR) topics, such as a growing hunger crisis and the critical role of food industry workers, in an unprecedented environment. Leaders throughout food production addressed these issues head-on and shared progress on the steps they have taken. Last year, The Intel Distillery tracked an escalation of purposedriven efforts, new partnerships and top-down moves that defined how food brands are looking to the future.

report preview

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Focus Feature:

Sustainability in Animal Care

Sourcing policies remain a major focus of corporate sustainability efforts. Animal care is a key tenet of food policy decisions along with environmental stewardship, worker concerns, food safety, community relations and human health. This means topics such as animal housing, health, handling and care are no longer just the concerns of farmers.

Food brands have evolved their approaches to animal care over time, and the pandemic has further altered the path of these policies. For a look at the big picture, read more in our latest Focus Feature.

Animal Care topics by species, 2013-2020

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Ag on the Ballot

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Pandemic Pressure on Food Safety

While the food industry always prioritizes the safety of its products, supply chains strained by the coronavirus pandemic amplified attention to the topic. Behind “Will there be enough food?” the second question asked during the crisis has often been “Is food safe?” Meanwhile, efforts from government agencies — including the CDC, FDA and Department of Justice — brought renewed urgency to protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses.

Food safety conversation volume, with COVID-19 highlight
Conversations about food safety rose by nearly 60% during the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic. Read the report to learn more about the voices driving discussions.

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Coronavirus in 3 Charts

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is monumental and continually developing. We analyzed proprietary information from The Intel Distillery’s databases to break down several key ways the coronavirus crisis has affected conversations about food production.

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January 7, 2020
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Spotlight on Communities

Report_Preview

Food companies are in a unique position to help the communities where they operate. Such corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts are especially apparent at the end of each year as companies step up their contributions but increasingly, community engagement has become a year-round CSR pillar. Beyond providing mutual benefits for both company and community, community engagement serves as an important signal to investors and employees that companies care about more than just the bottom line.

  • Major manufacturers address sweeping issues like world hunger, disaster relief and education.
  • Smaller food processors and manufacturers put community relations at the forefront.
  • Foodservice and retail channels rely on an engaged and active base to remain relevant.

This content comes from The Intel Distillery: your essential source for food industry analysis and intelligence.   

Download our latest Focus Feature filled with further reading to better understand how companies are tackling corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.

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