October 15, 2021
Friday by Noon:

Short Changed

The story of the pandemic’s impact on food, beverage and agriculture has been one of disruptions to the intertwined systems of supply chains, food prices and the workforce. The most influential voices helped to explain how the industry is scrambling and adapting:

  • Food prices rise due to multiple factors.
  • Worker issues strain the food system.
  • “Beleaguered” and “woeful” increasingly describe the supply chain.

Inflated

Pandemic-driven supply chain issues, unprecedented weather, erratic international trade and worker shortages are all conspiring to drive up food prices around the world.

  • Food Ingredients First reported on the FAO Worldwide Food Price Index and its continued rise through September, up 1.2% from August and 32.8% higher than a year ago.
  • Stateside, Wall Street Journal reporter Jesse Newman summarized how major manufacturers like PepsiCo and Lamb Weston are “boosting prices as they contend with escalating costs, and labor and transportation problems that are hampering the flow of staples to grocery-store shelves.”
  • Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio explained to the BBC how sourcing raw materials internationally is affecting prices: “As economies have restarted, the supply of these products hasn’t been able to keep up with returning demand, leading to higher prices. Higher wages and energy prices have also added to the burden for manufacturers.”
  • Reuters’ Tom Polansek looked at the organic commodities market, which is experiencing record prices for soybeans and other feed for livestock. Organic chicken producer Bell + Evans had to raise prices amid this “madhouse” market.
  • Food industry financial analyst Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics posted commentary on her LinkedIn page about IRI data that indicated a 6% increase across all food items. Meat prices increased 11% because of supply chain issues.
  • USA Today outlined money-saving tips for consumers, and reflected on Consumer Price Index numbers that indicate the most inflation in 13 years.

Where Are the Workers?

Workers across the country have had enough. The pandemic forced many essential workers to reflect on their jobs — the long hours, the low pay and the added threat of COVID-19 — and take up the fight for better conditions through strikes or relocation. To retain employees and attract new ones in a competitive market, some companies are now increasing pay and benefits.

  • The number of striking workers (or soon-to-be) is astonishing — including 1,400 workers at four Kellog’s plants and 10,000 John Deere workers, the Intelligencer summarized.
  • Barron’s reflected on the Deere strike: “Experts say these strikes portend a coming wave of labor action as workers have gained more leverage during the pandemic.”
  • A Wall Street Journal article examined what’s behind a 4.3 million worker shortage, and explained how a Connecticut cafe owner scrambling for employees had to cut operating hours, raise employee pay and increase menu prices.
  • With finding workers so challenging, some are turning to technology. Jamba and Blendid announced the opening of their second autonomous robotic mall kiosk that delivers contactless, customized smoothies.
  • Some restaurant workers have left the industry and aren’t looking back. Eater discovered that forced time off and unemployment benefits gave these workers time to reflect and reevaluate their lives, with many turning to their other skills for employment and a healthier work-life balance.
  • As a thank you to its team members, Target will increase wages by $2 per hour during the busy holiday season, detailed Supermarket News. Target also is looking to hire 100,000 seasonal team members — but they’ll be competing with Publix, Kroger, Walmart and the rest of the retail sector.

Clogged: Not Just the Ports

Since the pandemic began, new supply chain disruptions seemingly pop up every week. U.S. ports have fallen behind as more ships bring goods from overseas that can’t be offloaded, and worker shortages continue to plague ground transportation, distributors, retail and foodservice sectors.

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the unfortunate impacts of supply chain failures on school lunch programs.
  • A coalition of 77 commodity groups, led by the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation, have repeatedly called on the Biden administration to ease port backlogs.
  • Reuters writer Lisa Baertlein reported on October 7 that Walmart, Costco and other retailers began chartering their own ships as the Port of Los Angeles logged a record number of container ships waiting to unload.
  • On October 13, President Biden announced commitments from labor unions, delivery companies and retailers to operate 24/7 to ease congestion at West Coast ports. “Our goal is not only to get through this immediate bottleneck, but to address the longstanding weaknesses in our transportation supply chain that this pandemic has exposed.”
  • Reception of the plan was lukewarm, at best. The Washington Post’s David Lynch cited beleaguered transportation executives: “It’s just window dressing.”
  • Consumer Brands Association offered statistics for context. One astounding number: “For every one truck available, there are 16 shipments waiting.” And here we thought highways were already too congested.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on and supply chain pressures have intensified, we have run out of slack in the system. The labor shortage is driving the majority of issues in the supply chain and the paltry additions today … create an untenable situation for manufacturers.”

Geoff Freeman, President and CEO, Consumer Brands Association

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Why So Salty?

In nutrition news, the FDA published voluntary guidance suggesting that food manufacturers and restaurant chains reduce sodium in packaged foods like condiments, cereals, french fries and potato chips. The recommendation aims to cut average sodium intake by 12% over the next two and a half years. The CDC applauded news of the guidance on Twitter: “[It] could result in tens of thousands fewer cases of heart disease and stroke each year.”

You Might Also Like

New York Times tech columnist Shira Ovide examined a growing revenue stream for food delivery apps: paid placements. Ovide worried that the practice may damage the ordering experience: “The trick is striking the right balance between serving the companies that are footing the bill for advertising and the interests of those of us on the receiving end.” That’s basically “Endemic Advertising 101.”

GIS (NYSE) – Buy Buy Buy

Kiplinger’s ESG columnist Ellen Kennedy wrote a positive investor’s review of General Mills, partially because of its long-standing commitments to a sustainable supply chain. On October 8, General Mills issued a $500 million sustainability bond tied to its efforts to combat climate change and reduce GHG emissions. The bond will raise the company’s interest rates if it fails to meet environmental commitments.

What’s Your Ratio?

A rain delay during the Sunday Night Football matchup led to important investigative journalism on the composition of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. NPR spread the news after Twitter users debated whether 70/30 was an appropriate peanut-butter-to-jelly ratio. But where do players stand on peanut butter and pickle sandwiches?

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October 8, 2021
Friday by Noon:

The Struggle Is Real

In this week of reviewing what the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture had to say, we can surmise that:

  • Trade relations with China are remarkably consistent.
  • Restaurant inputs are increasingly expensive.
  • Food brands are continually redefining “good.”

“It is critical the administration initiate immediate discussions with China so we can level the international playing field and bring an end to the global supply chain disruption.”

David French, National Retail Federation

Superpowered Negotiations

On October 4, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai unveiled the Biden administration’s approach to trade with China. The administration will largely continue where the Trump administration left off — bringing a mixed bag of reactions from food producers.

  • While embracing tariffs and tactics used by the previous administration, representative Tai commented on the “Phase One” trade deal: “It has stabilized the market, especially for U.S. agricultural exports. … But the reality is, this agreement did not meaningfully address the fundamental concerns that we have with China’s trade practices.”
  • U.S. Dairy Export Council objected to the trade war waged under the Trump administration: “retaliatory tariffs continue to weigh down our prospects.”
  • The National Retail Federation rejected the continued use of tariffs, calling the strategy “lackluster at most, and will further inflict unnecessary damage to the American economy and retail supply chains.”
  • USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward urged the Biden administration to pursue “the WTO litigation process to hold China accountable …”
  • Notably quiet were two commodity groups that dealt with market whiplash over the past five years of negotiations — beef and pork. The U.S. Meat Export Federation reported that beef exports hit a record $1 billion in August, largely destined for China. Meanwhile, pork shipments have shifted away from the country as Chinese producers recover from African swine fever.

Rising Costs for Restaurants

With another pandemic winter looming, restaurants continue to struggle with worker shortages, outdoor dining, and the ever-rising cost of … well, just about everything. At least it’s not all bad news for the fine-dining restaurants named to the 2021 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

  • Small restaurants have been hit the hardest by rising costs and worker shortages, with a recent study showing 51% unable to pay their September rent. Bloomberg noted that number is up 40% since July.
  • A National Restaurant Association survey indicated that more than half of restaurant operators said that business is worse than it was three months ago.
  • Amid the labor shortage, Raising Cane’s is taking a unique approach to keep its restaurants staffed — it’s sending 50% of its corporate team to locations across the country to assist short-staffed stores. QSR magazine quoted co-CEO and COO AJ Kumaran: “The first thing we teach new hires at Cane’s is that we are all fry cooks & cashiers, and this week, we are proving that.”
  • Now that dining rooms are open again and more people are comfortable dining indoors, some restaurants are debating whether to continue outdoor dining options this winter, as detailed by The Chicago Tribune. While waiting to see if Chicago will extend dining in parking lots and shut-down streets, some are investing in sturdier tents to withstand harsh winter weather. We kinda like in-street dining.
  • You may want to start planning your trip to Copenhagen. Two of that city’s restaurants took first and second place on the 2021 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, as covered in Grub Street. If you’re looking to stay in the U.S., Cosme in New York City comes in at a “close” 22nd place …

Lots of Zeros by 2050

Significant CSR commitments continued to roll in from across food production. Restaurant chains, manufacturers, commodity groups and seed companies addressed sustainability, responsibility and stewardship.

  • Reuters reporter Hillary Russ described McDonald’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, which the company announced on October 4.
  • McDonald’s announcement came shortly after the burger giant committed to phasing out plastic toys by 2025.
  • Restaurant Brands International (Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons) committed to cutting emissions by 50% by 2030 and matched McDonald’s goal of net zero by 2050. Nation’s Restaurant News summarized the company’s strategy of “promoting leading environmental stewardship practices already underway in the agricultural supply chain through partnerships with suppliers, researchers, farmers and ranchers.”
  • Mars followed suit on October 5. CEO Grant Reid elaborated: “Our net zero target covers our entire GHG footprint, from how we source materials through to how consumers use our products and we’re mobilizing our entire business around taking action now.”
  • Hormel (Planters, Skippy, SPAM, etc.) published a comprehensive 2020 CSR report that focused on “greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy, water and solid waste.”
  • On the agricultural side, Bayer announced a new organic vegetable seed launch. Citing increased consumer need, “Vegetables by Bayer” will include tomato, sweet pepper and cucumber seeds.
  • After successfully testing payments to soybean farmers to adopt regenerative practices in 2020, Cargill expanded its RegenConnect program. GreenBiz described how the program “will connect farmers to consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies hoping to buy offsets for their net-zero commitments, starting in 2022.”

“We’re trying to send a signal to our partners, to our investors, to our suppliers, to other brands in the global community, to policymakers, that we share that vision for 2050.”

Jenny McColloch, Chief Sustainability Officer, McDonald’s

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

It’s ‘Cultivated’

Cell-based / petri-dish / nü meat / cell-cultured: these are the runners-up in a consensus-building exercise the Good Food Institute conducted to name cultivated meat. “Cultivated meat is a bit friendlier, foodier, translates into some of our key European languages, and signals a bit more of the caring / precarious process needed to keep cells happy,” explained Tim van de Rijdt, from Mosa Meat and President of Cellular Agriculture Europe.” Look for their rebrand to Cultivated Agriculture Europe in three … two …

Pollock Pile-up

A decidedly fishy interpretation of a century-old shipping law has frozen the nation’s pollock supply, stranding more than 26 million pounds in Canada. Wall Street Journal reporter Jesse Newman covers the bureaucratic battle over fines for fast-food fish fetchers. Say that five times fast.

The Fall of Pumpkin Spice

Is it the beginning of the end for pumpkin spice’s 18-year reign as the monarch of fall flavors? That’s doubtful, but Nation’s Restaurant News showcased other classic fall offerings, such as maple and apple-infused hot drinks.

Let’s Taco ‘Bout That

Texas-based taco connoisseur Jo Luna beat out 5,000 other applicants to land the coveted role as McCormick’s first-ever director of taco relations, reported Food Processing magazine. In her new role, Luna will serve as the “resident consulting taco expert” and will work with the McCormick brand team to develop recipes that use McCormick Taco Seasoning Mix.

Spilling the Beans on Longevity

In a quest to make beans the next superfood, Bush’s Beans partnered with health organization Blue Zones to create an organic plant-based line of products intended to foster longer life (Food Dive). Named after a 2005 National Geographic magazine article that profiled five locations worldwide with the largest proportion of centenarians, Blue Zones recommends diets be at least 95% plant-based, with between a half and a full cup of beans daily. Magical …

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October 1, 2021
Friday by Noon:

Garbanzo Journalism

In the fortnight since our last weekly summary, much has been stirring. Influential farmers, producers, regulators, brands and thinkers convened at a pair of conferences to discuss the big picture of global food production and the immediate future of “better-for-you” products. Far From those lofty conferences, workers in the trenches of food production dealt with more immediate challenges.

  • The U.N. Food Systems Summit sparked controversy.
  • Natural Products Expo underscored the continued potential for the category.
  • Workers faced the wrath of irritable diners.

Food Systems Friction

The United Nations held the Food Systems Summit on September 23, for the first time bringing together nations and food makers to discuss the complex interactions of production, food security, nutrition and climate change. The event brought to light intense conflict between corporate and advocacy groups over balancing these concerns.

  • Organizations ranging from the USDA to the Organic Trade Association and WWF provided feedback on steps to build sustainable food systems.
  • Field to Market President Rod Snyder challenged participants: “Aspirations must be matched by meaningful action and shared responsibility across the value chain to meet the urgency of this moment.”
  • Likewise, National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern decried “uniform, misguided ideology” in favor of farm-by-farm solutions.
  • The most prominent criticism of the event came from an expert hired by the U.N. itself: special rapporteur Michael Fakhri wrote in a report that the summit completely neglected the effects of COVID-19. He argued that the pandemic demonstrated part of “how and why the world’s food systems undermine human rights, exacerbate inequalities, threaten biodiversity and contribute to climate change.”
  • The Associated Press summarized criticism from academics and advocacy groups that “disavowed” the summit.
  • A coalition of more than 300 groups, led by Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM), boycotted the event because “the Summit distracts from the real problems” tied to the pandemic.

Customers: The New Foodservice Hazard

Long hours and low wages were the norm for foodservice workers long before the pandemic. Reports of customer tantrums and retaliation over COVID-19 restrictions add new levels of frustration and danger for these already exhausted, but essential, workers.

  • NPR reported a restaurant host was assaulted in Manhattan after asking a group of Texas residents for proof of vaccination status.
  • Mother Jones noted that “80 percent of restaurant workers report a drop in tips when they attempt to enforce COVID-19 restrictions.”
  • The customer is no longer “always right” as restaurants push back against bad behavior, as covered by The Wall Street Journal.
  • The worker shortage is forcing restaurants to raise pay after “hiring in the hospitality industry stagnated in August,” according to The New York Times. The Washington Post pointed to one alternative worker destination: the cannabis industry.
  • One silver lining for these workers: Eater detailed how restaurant wages have started to trend upward based on a new study from One Fair Wage.

So Many Chickpeas

Simultaneous with the U.N. Food Systems Summit, Natural Products Expo East 2021 kicked off as a live event after being twice postponed due to the pandemic. The Intel Distillery had a troop on the ground in Philadelphia to check it out.

  • Two things in particular featured prominently: CBD supplements and chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans). CBD popped up for both human and pet applications while chickpeas seemed to underlie the deluge of plant-based options.
  • Notable absentees included the “clean label” theme that graced nearly every exhibit a few years ago and sustainable sub-brands from major manufacturers (we assume many corporate travel bans dictated that). Despite brands touching on similar topics, there was no mention of the bigger-picture U.N. Food Systems Summit.
  • Food Business News summarized the keynote address by Carlotta Mast, senior vice president at New Hope Network, the organization that organized the event. Mast shared data from Nutrition Business Journal (a New Hope Publication) that indicated the natural/organic category is on track to hit $300 billion in sales by 2023. Garbanzo Journalism, anyone?
  • Food Dive summarized SPINS research that indicated organic labeling and animal care claims accelerate sales of certain products.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Naming Names …

Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel’s book on close-to-home food production is nearing publication (Twitter). Perhaps soon-to-be food industry influencers, skateboarder Tony Hawk and rapper Eminem, have opened restaurants. Hawk is riding the chicken sandwich wave by opening Chick N’ Hawk next year (People), while Eminem has opened Mom’s Spaghetti in his hometown of Detroit (Eater). Please wear a clean sweater if you go. Finally, YouTube blocked misleading anti-vaccination content, notably from alternative medicine proponent Dr. Joseph Mercola, whose controversial views on health and nutrition have stirred controversy for decades (Reuters).

Breakfast Budget Busted

Your morning jolt of caffeine may soon cost more at both your local grocery store and cafe. The Associated Press warned that “a confluence of factors is driving up farmers’ costs to grow the beans and it could begin filtering down to your local cafe before the end of the year.” It’s the same for bacon. Business Insider reported prices have risen 13% over the past year. Doesn’t matter; breakfast remains our favorite meal of the day.

Stay Hydrated

How much water should you actually drink? The New York Times interviewed Dr. Joel Topf, a nephrologist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Oakland University in Michigan, who recommended listening to your body and simply drinking when you’re thirsty. The article also busted some common hydration myths, including judging hydration level by urine color …

Middle-aged McRib

The Takeout celebrated the return of the McRib at McDonald’s for the fake-boned sandwich’s 40th birthday: “Forget pumpkin spice lattes, everyone. The real spiritual transition into cool weather is the moment the return of the McDonald’s McRib is announced.”

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Food Summit in Sight

The pandemic continues to drive short-term discussions about workplace safety in many aspects of food production, while some of the most influential voices in food and agriculture convened to plan further ahead.

  • Leaders convened to Honor the Harvest.
  • Companies followed up with policy changes.
  • Industry groups considered vaccination logistics.

“There is no culture without agriculture.”

Anonymous, Honor the Harvest forum

Honoring the Harvest

More than 175+ prominent voices from across the food supply chain convened online at the Honor the Harvest forum, hosted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA). Bader Rutter’s Chief Growth Officer David Jordan participated in important discussions about the tough challenges for food production over the next decade.

“One immediate accomplishment of the forum was to prepare USFRA leadership to represent U.S. food production in the U.N. Food System Summit,” reflected Jordan, speaking about the event next week in New York that will launch bold directives for a healthier, more sustainable and equitable global food system.

The event brought together big thinkers to articulate a four-point vision for climate-smart, sustainable agriculture:

  • Recharge our environment through agriculture that regenerates natural resources
  • Revitalize our collective societal appreciation of agriculture
  • Invest in the next generation of agriculture systems
  • Strengthen the social and economic fabric of America through agriculture

Working in small groups, participants from organizations including Corteva Agriscience, the United Soybean Board, Culver’s, ConAgra, the National FFA Organization, and many others discussed topics like leveraging technology, driving transformative investment, and strengthening the power of collaboration.

The event closed by premiering a powerful docudrama, The Carbon Neutral Pig, about Marlowe Ivey, a farmer and single mother who challenges herself to turn her business carbon-neutral by saying “change has gotta start somewhere.”

Race to the Summit

Ahead of the U.N. Food Systems Summit, which will take place on September 23 in New York City, food companies shared progress reports on sustainability goals and outlined areas for future growth and improvement to mitigate climate change.

  • National Chicken Council published its inaugural sustainability report, showing nearly a 20% decrease in the industry’s carbon footprint per pound of poultry over 10 years.
  • Triple Pundit shared Bayer’s commitment to “a carbon zero future for agriculture” achieved by working with growers to reduce GHG emissions and generate revenue from CO2 sequestration.
  • PepsiCo framed its latest sustainability initiative through pep+ (pronounced “pep positive”), which “will guide how PepsiCo will transform its business operations.”
  • Food Business News highlighted regenerative agriculture, describing how Cargill is enrolling farmers in RegenConnect, the company’s voluntary regenerative agriculture program. Additionally, Nestlé is investing “approximately $1.3 billion over the next five years to help its farmers and suppliers transition to using regenerative agriculture practices.”

Sticking Points

On September 9, President Biden directed OSHA to require all companies with more than 100 employees to obtain proof of vaccination or weekly COVID tests from workers. Naturally, this prompted questions and trepidation from industry groups as OSHA develops final rules.

  • FMI, the food industry association, exemplified industry concerns, saying the rule raised “more questions than answers.”
  • Consumer Brands Association endorsed vaccines, but worried, “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, government has often failed to implement well-intentioned policy. … As with other mandates, the devil is in the details.”
  • Retail Industry Leaders Association President Brian Dodge added, “Requiring large employers to mandate vaccination of all employees or produce a negative test is a colossal undertaking.”
  • Labor group Fight for $15 retweeted The Nation writer Bryce Covert: “Equally important is the requirement that employers give employees paid time off to get the vaccine.”
  • Meanwhile, local governments continue to set policies. The Los Angeles Times reported that Los Angeles County will require proof of vaccination for entry at bars, but not restaurants, starting October 7.
  • Eater checked in on New York City restaurants now that the city is enforcing its vaccination requirements.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Don’t Read This if You’re Hungry

Just in time to shake up your fall cooking, Eater shared its list of the 17 best cookbooks for fall. Whether you’re a weeknight warrior, a baking enthusiast or a full-on foodie, the list has a little something for everyone. Take yourself on a culinary adventure without traveling, with options like Korean, vegan and Ghanaian food. You can stick with the classics, or find your next weekend project. May we suggest fluffy Chinese milk bread or buttery Southern biscuits?

Sweetgreen’s Not so Sweet CEO

The Atlantic reported that Jonathan Neman, CEO and co-founder of fast-casual salad restaurant Sweetgreen, is receiving backlash after “he lamented that Americans are simply too fat to survive COVID-19, a reality that he says could be addressed with ‘health mandates'” in a now-deleted LinkedIn post. While he apologized to Sweetgreen’s staff, he defended the intent of the proposal.

Sonny’s Food Box … a Retrospective

Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle summarized the Government Accounting Office’s recap of the USDA Harvest Box, USDA’s attempt to deliver surplus agricultural products directly to consumers under then-secretary Sonny Perdue. The GAO report proved several of Nestle’s earlier points criticizing “the enormous expense, the complicated and burdensome logistics, the burden on food banks, most of the money going to distributors rather than small farmers, the lack of choice for recipients and the unsustainable focus on charity.”

Protecting Pollinators

Friends of the Earth created a retailer report card in a bid to spur change and encourage major companies to move “toward less-toxic practices and create a healthier food system for pollinators and other critical biodiversity…” The report card ranked the 25 largest U.S. grocery stores on pesticides in their supply chains, organic offerings and promoting pollinator health. Out of the 25, only four received passing grades.

Trick or Squeeze

The Takeout covered some forward-thinking marketing from the HV Food Products company: Hidden Valley Ranch for trick-or-treaters: “With its Treat-Sized Ranch Packets, Hidden Valley is advocating for a new Halloween tradition altogether, one that’s creamy and goes well with pizza.” Also: Hidden Valley Crocs feat. Saweetie (Footwear News).

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Friday by Noon:

Short Week, Tall Order

Last night, President Biden stirred discussions about workers by announcing plans for a national vaccination policy — a topic that already raised concern throughout food production when it was limited to a few companies. The bureaucratic wheels must grind before anything becomes official, so expect a summary of spirited discussion next week.

The short week brought no shortage of other developments in food, beverage and agriculture. We took a shotgun approach this week, with quick coverage of:

  • Evolving claims about ingredients and labeling
  • Recurring themes in international trade
  • Unjamming kinks in the meat supply chain
  • Thanking workers

Sticky Subject

Labeling and ingredients are the basis for so many influential conversations about defining “good” food. From health benefits to sustainability claims, constant conversations (and bickering) online — in the media and courts — exert outsized influence on consumer perception of the quality and benefits any given food delivers.

  • USDA announced a comment period on labeling of cell-cultured products derived from animal cells. This comes after a 2019 rule establishing joint oversight between the FDA and USDA. The agency wants to hear from stakeholders to determine the best steps forward as it begins the process of what cell-cultured meat labeling will say. This should get interesting.
  • New York Times reporter Andrew Jacobs explained an uptick in litigation by consumer groups over food labeling claims. The lawsuits, which escalated from 45 filed in 2010 to 220 filed in 2020, largely target “big” manufacturers making sustainability claims about their products.
  • An article in Food Business News described the challenges of food coloring amid increasing consumer preference for non-synthetic food dyes.
  • AgWeek published a quiz testing your knowledge of food labeling lingo. If you need help, drop us a line.

Border Crossings

International trade, a fundamental component of today’s food system, was a topic of intense focus throughout the Trump administration, when talk of tariffs on Chinese goods regularly made front-page news. While the discussions have settled down, some noteworthy changes, complaints and comparisons happened this week:

  • In the wake of Hurricane Ida, buyers of American corn, soybeans and wheat exports experienced major delays and uncertain prices (Bloomberg).
  • Reuters reported that China imported 9% less meat in August. Prices there plunged as pork producers recovered from African swine fever.
  • At the same time, U.S. beef exports in July were 45% higher than a year ago, driven by demand largely from Asian markets (USMEF).
  • The Florida Department of Agriculture expressed concern that importing Mexican fruits costs the state thousands of jobs and nearly $4 billion in lost revenue (ABC7, Sarasota).
  • Citing destructive fishing practices and human rights violations, Greenpeace USA pleaded with U.S. authorities to block imports from a prominent Taiwanese seafood producer.

Where’s the Meat?

In a report published on September 8, the Biden administration pinned blame for high meat prices on “a lack of competition at a key bottleneck point in the meat supply chain: meat-processing.” Meat accounted for half of food-at-home price increases during the pandemic, but the consequences are hitting food-away-from home as well — and sparking competition.

  • The report further described a “dynamic of a hyper-consolidated pinch point in the supply chain [that] raises real questions about pandemic profiteering.”
  • Last week, the National Farmers Union requested that USDA to follow up on its $500 million fund to expand competition in the processing sector. The fund was established in July.
  • North American Meat Institute COO Mark Dopp objected that labor shortages are the real culprit: “Issuing inflammatory statements that ignore the fundamentals of how supply and demand affects markets accomplishes nothing.”
  • Regardless of where blame lies, supply chain issues continue to plague foodservice and retail channels. Bloomberg reported that KFC has stopped ad campaigns for its chicken tender products due to short supplies.
  • Looking to cash in on the shortages, Impossible Foods debuted a nugget that The Washington Posts’ Emily Heil claimed “actually tastes like chicken.” At this point, hasn’t that description kind of lost all meaning?

USDA to the Rescue

In honor of Labor Day, the USDA announced $700 million in aid for farm and food processing workers affected by COVID-19. The funds amount to roughly $600 for each worker.

  • United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres commented: “As we honor the contributions of workers across our nation, let’s show gratitude to the men and women who feed America and the world.” (USDA)
  • United Food and Commercial Workers International Union thanked the administration for the compensation: “Meatpacking workers have had to use their own money to pay for personal protective equipment to stay safe on the job, shoulder the burden of increased childcare costs, take on expenses from COVID-19 testing and quarantining, and much more.”

“Food, that inanimate object with which we are most intimately connected, is challenging not only what we think about human health but how we use science to go about understanding the world.”

Amos Zeeberg, Journalist (Aeon)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Taking a Jab at the Unvaccinated

Yesterday evening, September 9, President Biden directed OSHA to require all companies with more than 100 employees to obtain proof of vaccination or weekly COVID tests from workers. Biden explained: “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. … despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.”

Battle of the Bugs

Modern Farmer reported that researchers at Penn State University have figured out how to use aphids’ (small sap-sucking insects) fear of ladybugs against them. Previous research revealed aphids detect ladybugs by their smell, leading researchers to isolate various odors emitted by ladybugs. When exposed to each odor individually, “aphids had the strongest response to methoxypyrazines, such as isopropyl methoxypyrazine, isobutyl methoxypyrazine and sec-butyl methoxypyrazine.” Obviously …

Noodling About Nutrition

In a 6,200 word ramble, author Amos Zeeberg explored the evolving human quest for better nutrition. Zeeberg theorized that nutrition science started when we evolved “from eating enough to eating the right things” and touches on everything from treating scurvy to Soylent (a meal replacement solution) to the most recent advances in clear whey protein powder.

Changes ‘From Menu to Tip’

The New York Times’ food desk contributors collaborated to share many of the ways that restaurants, and the experience of dining out altogether, have changed since the start of the pandemic. The article covered everything from the chicken sandwich wars and QR code menus to pizza dough reformulations, and how the restaurant industry had to think quickly and adapt.

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Friday by Noon:

Disruption by Land and Sea

Here’s what led discussions among the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture this week:

  • Hurricane Ida disrupted everything from restaurants to grain terminals.
  • Researchers continued to bicker over what is healthy.
  • Restaurants, retailers and third parties competed for delivery dollars.

“The most pressing problem is not dieting itself, but the collision of the modern food environment with our immutable evolutionary heritage that drives us to find and consume food when it is available.”

Michael Lowe, PhD, Drexel University (Science Daily)

Eyes on Ida

Severe weather continues to wreak havoc across the country, straining the nation’s food supply. This week, Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf region, displacing residents and disrupting businesses in its path.

  • As Ida approached, USDA reminded “communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses … that USDA has programs that provide assistance in the wake of disasters.”
  • Nation’s Restaurant News warned that Louisiana restaurants could be without power for weeks.
  • Eater New Orleans promoted local and national relief efforts that were on the scene immediately following the hurricane with volunteer opportunities that included community feeding efforts by World Central Kitchen.
  • Meatingplace contributor Tom Johnston encouraged companies of all sizes to take stock of their business insurance coverage and be prepared for when crises occur.
  • Assessing the damage, Agri-Pulse summarized how the region’s sugar cane crop took the biggest hit, while rice, soybeans and cotton fields also sustained damage.
  • Reuters reported damaged grain terminals in Louisiana disrupted “shipments from the Gulf Coast, which accounts for about 60% of U.S. exports, at a time when global supplies are tight and demand is strong from China.”
  • Sanderson Farms stated that no employees had been injured at plant facilities, and CEO Joe Sanderson reassured, “We have experience managing through catastrophic weather events, and we were prepared to respond to Hurricane Ida and do all we can to protect our assets.”

Universities on Health

Researchers at leading colleges and universities continue to deliver studies examining how food impacts our health and, increasingly, how our diets impact our environment.

  • Eating hot dogs reduces your life expectancy while eating nuts and seeds adds minutes to your life, according to two University of Michigan researchers (The Conversation). However, many influential voices, including The Washington Post’s Tamar Haspel called foul: “We can’t let people go around telling folks that each hot dog costs them 36 minutes of ‘healthy life.'”
  • With an enticing title like “Dieting: Villain or Scapegoat?” you need to read further. Science Daily summarized recent Drexel University research on the effectiveness of dieting. “Stated differently, asking whether dieting is ‘good or bad’ is analogous to asking if taking methadone is good or bad,” said head researcher Michael Lowe.
  • New York Times health writer Jane Brody shared five diet and lifestyle choices to prevent heartburn, like reducing coffee consumption. Additionally, Times reporter Anahad O’Connor summarized University of California, San Francisco research linking minor alcohol consumption to atrial fibrillation and other heart conditions.
  • Tufts Friedman School published a study that found that 67% of calories in the diets of children and adolescents came from “ultraprocessed” foods. Lead author Fang Fang Zhang shared some good news about a drop in calories from sugar-sweetened drinks: “This finding shows the benefits of the concerted campaign over the past few years to reduce overall consumption.”
  • Laura Reiley’s article in the Washington Post shared how remote learning and other pandemic-induced sedentary activity has increased the rate of obesity in children ages 5 to 11.

Delivering for Dollars

The pandemic boosted food delivery, and neither looks like it will go away anytime soon. Foodservice and retail channels continue to adjust strategies that take advantage of this trend. Meanwhile, big cities made moves to limit unfair practices in the sector.

  • Nation’s Restaurant News reported that Wendy’s reformulated its french fries to “retain heat and crispiness for between 15 and 30 minutes.”
  • On August 24, Walmart launched an entire delivery-as-a-service business plan: Walmart GoLocal. The retailer has opened the service to “local merchants” and “national and enterprise retail clients.”
  • Kroger partnered with Kitchen United to create “ghost kitchen” hubs where several restaurants prepare food exclusively for takeout or delivery.
  • On August 27, the city of Chicago sued DoorDash and Grubhub for deceptive practices such as listing unaffiliated restaurants as partners or collecting a “Chicago fee” that does not go to the city. DoorDash responded: “This lawsuit isn’t about the facts, it’s a cynical and desperate ploy to distract from the urgent needs facing Chicago’s small business community and residents.”
  • After the New York City Council passed a permanent 15% cap on delivery fees on August 26, Just Eat Takeaway CEO Jitse Groen tweeted that the limits are unconstitutional. He also stated, “Fee caps increase delivery fees for consumers.” Actually, we’re pretty sure that’s actually the opposite of how fee limits work.

“Ghost kitchens may or may not be the future of the restaurant industry, but they’re definitely the present.”

Terrence Doyle, Eater

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Spicy Berries

The Wall Street Journal shared an array of theories on why humans love hot peppers — a fruit (peppers are technically berries) whose defense mechanism is quite literally to cause harm. Some evolutionary theories include food preservation, pain management or “just showing off.”

‘The Rising Star in Fermentation’

In her Berry on Dairy blog, Donna Berry examined kefir and proposed this high-protein fermented milk drink could be the next Greek yogurt, especially in the context of the pandemic. Mintel’s Stephanie Mattucci explained, “Immune health will still be important to many consumers, even after the vaccine. It’s all about staying healthy against many illnesses. It is especially critical until the youngest population can get vaccinated.”

Water Wars

On August 30, a U.S. district court vacated the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, saying it risks “serious environmental harm.” American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall disagreed: “This ruling casts uncertainty over farmers and ranchers across the country and threatens the progress they’ve made to responsibly manage water and natural resources.” In contrast, Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer said, “This sensible ruling allows the Clean Water Act to continue to protect all of our waters while the Biden administration develops a replacement rule.”

Double Gummy

Eater’s deep dive on the gummy describes how gummies went from a candy to a synonym of health and wellness. “Gummies make wellness, however you define it, feel convenient and cutting-edge, something to be savored instead of swallowed,” explained author Rachel Del Valle. Contributing to the gummy craze, Starburst announced Starburst Airs, an aerated, bouncier version of the candy.

TSA Pre-cook Certification

Despite TSA’s myriad restrictions on what can go in your checked bag, food is generally OK for domestic travel (border crossings are a different story). That said, although it’s legal, we can’t really recommend that you transport raw chicken in a poorly secured cooler, as ABC captured this week. Warning: this can’t be unseen.

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August 27, 2021
Friday by Noon:

All the Goods

Food marketing, school lunch and legal battles livened up conversations among the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture this week.

  • Our team spotlighted three powerhouse food marketers’ takes on “good.”
  • Back to school, back to reality. Well, kind of.
  • Courts weighed in on complex food production policies.

An Exceptionally Good Panel

On August 25, Bader Rutter’s Defining “Good” LinkedIn Live webinar was quite a success, and we want to thank everyone who participated. What started as a theory we kicked around the office a few years ago — that food marketing’s definition of “good” continually evolves — came together as an hour-long discussion with three remarkably insightful food marketing leaders. Moderated by Bader Rutter Executive Creative Director Dennis Ryan, marketers from Quaker, Tillamook and the National Pork Board shared their experiences and perspectives on defining “good” in their brand and products.

  • National Pork Board Chief Strategy Officer Jarrod Sutton pointed out that pig farmers have long focused on environmental stewardship: “We were doing regenerative agriculture before it was cool, and that’s what’s great about the current position that this industry finds itself in.” Sutton also explained the industry’s decade-old responsibility commitment, We Care, which “essentially establishes six ethical principles by which our farmers operate.”
  • Quaker Foods Chief Marketing Officer Kristin Kroepfl explained the bold decision to transition the Aunt Jemima brand to the heritage Pearl Milling Company. She emphasized how thoughtfully and intentionally they approached this change, calling it “as important as anything we do when it comes to the environment or agricultural practices because it’s about human beings, it’s about people.”
  • Calling in from the company’s headquarters in Oregon, Tillamook Executive Vice President of Brand Joe Prewett shared insights on how this storied dairy brand defines “good” through a premium positioning that addresses far more than taste: “We’re constantly exploring the intersection of health and wellness and joy and indulgence. That’s where we hang out as a brand.”
  • If you missed it, you can watch the full replay on LinkedIn. Expect a formal recap and highlight videos on our website soon.

Lunch Logistics

As students prepare to return to in-person learning, influential voices in food production discussed a range of school-related issues around school lunch, food waste, nutrition and the rising cost of school essentials.

  • Food Safety News interviewed experts on school lunch food safety and healthfulness.
  • Agri-Pulse discussed the influence of President Biden’s “Buy American” executive order on USDA’s purchase of American-made products for school meals.
  • Meanwhile, the School Nutrition Association raised concerns about supply chain disruptions and requested flexibility on nutrition requirements.
  • Estimating that families waste the equivalent of $1,500 each year on school lunches, the USDA shared tips on reducing food waste as parents prepare to resume the daily ritual.
  • Institutional foodservice operator Aramark introduced school menu items, new dining concepts and company support for extended universal free-meal waivers.
  • The Washington Post offered parents back-to-school recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch and after school snacks.
  • An infographic from the Consumer Brands Association illustrated how “unprecedented demand, a pandemic, port delays, shipping challenges and rising commodity prices mean it is costing more to produce and deliver this year’s back-to-school essentials.”

Courtroom Complications

Food production is complicated. Laws and lawsuits often complicate things further. Several long-running conversations on food and ag policy cropped up again. We’re just scratching the surface on each of these (complicated, remember?), so don’t hesitate to click through for more info.

  • California leads the pack with three separate voter-passed propositions drawing attention. On August 23, Specialty Food Association shared optimism for legal reprieve from Proposition 65, which requires companies to label certain foods as “known to the state of California to cause cancer” — in this case, starchy foods that form acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures.
  • Eater detailed an August 20 ruling on Proposition 22, which deemed drivers for companies like UberEats to be independent contractors and not employees. A judge declared the rule unconstitutional because it prevents California lawmakers from granting collective bargaining rights to delivery drivers.
  • After a federal judge upheld Proposition 12, Republican senators introduced the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act to prevent California from dictating out-of-state livestock housing practices. Cool acronym, bro.
  • Meanwhile, three Midwestern states garnered attention for similar laws that limit undercover videos at livestock operations, commonly known as “ag-gag” laws. Activist groups led by Animal Legal Defense Fund defeated laws in Arkansas and Kansas last week on the grounds that the laws violate the First Amendment.
  • Food Safety News editor Dan Flynn explained the more nuanced ruling on Iowa’s “ag-gag” law. A panel of judges upheld a narrower interpretation of the false speech rule “because it prohibits exclusively lies associated with legally cognizable harm — namely, trespass to private property.”
  • Politico dove into legal battles the USDA faces in its attempt to distribute relief funds to “socially disadvantaged” farmers. The Guardian interviewed intended recipients, with some farmers stating the relief is “Not what it was sold to be.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Getting Real

Emily Sundberg from Grub Street believes we are on the cusp of a new trend: Real milk is back. After a summer trip in Europe drinking whole milk, Emily took to the streets of NYC for a firsthand account. “The case against dairy ignores many of the complexities of our food system, and I think people are starting to realize that,” said Caroline Hesse, a local cheese facility manager.

Hey, Pigweed!

New York Times writer H. Claire Brown posted a detailed description of Palmer amaranth (aka pigweed). This “superweed” threatens many crops as regulations reduce the tools farmers have available to fight it, including certain pesticides. Brown wrote, “If there’s a plant perfectly suited to outcompete the farmers, researchers and chemical companies that collectively define industrial American agriculture, it’s Palmer amaranth.”

Currying Flavor

In response to an article by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten, chef Padma Lakshmi decried “racist insults about the ‘stinky’ foods of immigrants” and provided context for modern misunderstandings of Indian food. Lakshmi noted, “People are slowly realizing there’s a lot more to the world of gastronomy than the French, Eurocentric worldview.”

Defining ‘Healthy’

Scientific American explored the recently introduced Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021, which would standardize front-of-package labeling, rating the relative healthiness of a given food product. The article compared the opinions of agricultural economists Jasyon Lusk from Purdue and David Just from Cornell, both of whom saw pros and cons. Just warned, “The meaning of symbols might also get lost in a supermarket, which is often a chaotic and overstimulating place even for the savviest, most nutrition-conscious consumer.”

Oh, I Wish …

While wishes of becoming an Oscar Mayer hotdogger didn’t come true for most of us, the next best thing could be a ride in the Wienermobile. And now that’s a real possibility. Oscar Mayer and Lyft have teamed up to offer rides via the #WienermobileLyft, where select lucky users of the rideshare app may be surprised by a Wienermobile pulling up to drive them to their destination. We’d give it five stars.

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August 20, 2021
Friday by Noon:

Thrifty Plan, Supplies and Demand

Food stamps, vaccination mandates and future-proofing big brands were topics that resonated this week with the most influential voices in food production.

  • Federal relief helps mitigate hunger and rising food prices.
  • Conversation about vaccines kicks up as restaurant requirements spread.
  • Foodservice and retail lay plans for the future.

Rubber Stamping Food Stamps

On August 16, the USDA announced an update to the Thrifty Food Plan, which determines the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) benefits. Both the 2018 Farm Bill and an executive order signed by President Biden had directed the agency to update the Thrifty Food Plan by 2022. (For some background info, see Feeding America’s “Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity” report.)

  • The Counter, like most media coverage, focused on the change being the biggest benefit increase in the SNAP program’s history. Benefits are expected to rise by 27% over pre-pandemic levels, roughly $36 more per person per month.
  • Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, cheered: “Forty-two million Americans will now have a better chance at eating a healthy diet, something that should be a basic right of all Americans.”
  • National Grocers Association welcomed the first major change to the Thrifty Food Plan since 1975 as “long overdue.”
  • United Fresh Produce Association thanked the USDA for updating its plans to include more fruits and vegetables.
  • Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress worried about the budget, calling for review by the Government Accountability Office: “The complexity of this process, and its likely impacts, create an urgent need for scrutiny.”
  • Last week, Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich reported that data on pandemic relief showed that additional monthly payments to families with children substantially reduced food insecurity.
  • The Wall Street Journal ran counter to other media coverage, with the editorial board coldly calling the update “a recipe for a weaker and fatter America.”

Critical Vax

As the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the country, vaccine requirements are spreading across the food industry. Debate about the mandates centered on restaurants, where most Americans will experience the effects.

  • On August 12, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared that “high-contact indoor sectors” will need to obtain proof of vaccination or a recent negative test from patrons.
  • While the city of Chicago does not yet require proof of vaccination, the Chicago Tribune found that bars voluntarily adopting the policy have largely received positive feedback.
  • Texas is less friendly to such measures. The state warned Austin restaurants that liquor licenses could be revoked for requiring proof of vaccination (Texas Tribune).
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon interviewed restaurant owners in New York, where they serve as “the new COVID-19 vaccine enforcers — for better or worse.”
  • Grub Street writer Alan Sytsma chastised the city’s more dramatic opposition: “It’s extremely difficult for customers to dine at your restaurant if they’re all in the hospital instead.”
  • Consumer Brands Association polled its members and found that, while none currently require vaccines, 66% would not rule out such a measure. CEO Geoff Freeman added, “The sooner the FDA gives its full approval, the better off we’ll be.”

Just Soothsayin’

New partnerships, policies and acquisitions prompted business conversations this week, with many major players planning for what lies ahead.

  • Walmart has plans to expand its footprint in cryptocurrency. CNBC interpreted a recent Walmart announcement (since removed) and described the payment trend in retail. Amazon, Whole Foods and Starbucks already allow indirect crypto payments.
  • A few new partnerships caught our attention, including Hershey’s teaming up with Land O’Lakes to focus on dairy sustainability (Triple Pundit) and Cargill partnering with vertical farming operator AeroFarms to improve cocoa bean yields (Progressive Grocer).
  • Food Engineering detailed the sale of Sanderson Farms to both Cargill and Continental Grain. In the terms of the deal, the new owners will combine Sanderson’s assets with Wayne Farms, a Continental Grain subsidiary, to form a new poultry megabusiness.
  • Also in chicken acquisition, JBS made an offer to buy up the parts of Pilgrim’s Pride that it does not already own (Food Business News), which prompted a monopoly discussion in the U.S. Senate (Politico).
  • Supermarket News covered Aldi’s plans to hire 20,000 additional retail and warehouse workers as the discount retailer gears up for the holidays.
  • Full-service restaurants’ takeout and delivery business continues to skyrocket, as big foodservice operators like Darden and Applebee’s adapt to meet off-premise demand (Nation’s Restaurant News).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Bug Bites

Fact: we get excited about insects, robots and venture capital, especially when any two are combined. The Food Institute explained how, while the market for insects for human consumption has stalled, there has been solid investment in insects raised for livestock feed. Still waiting on news of robot insects.

Farmer Young

The Wall Street Journal described a recent and much-needed injection of the younger generation leaving office jobs for farm work. “From 2012 to 2017, the number of producers under age 35 grew 11% to about 285,000, while producers age 35-64 had shrunk by 2%.”

Chlorpyrifos Out

NPR’s Vanessa Romo explained the EPA’s ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, after a lengthy legal battle. The ban, which goes into effect in six months, will prohibit the use of the insecticide on food crops such as strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli and corn.

ChorizNO

On August 19, burrito chain Chipotle announced its foray into alternative protein, adding a plant-based chorizo to the menu. Bloomberg’s Leslie Patton covered the news, quoting Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt’s reasoning for not partnering with plant-based giants Impossible Foods or Beyond, as many others have: “They’re too processed for us, and they contain a lot of ingredients we would never have in our restaurants.”

Hamsgiving, Anyone?

The New York Post warned of a turkey shortage this Thanksgiving. Expect smaller birds and limited availability of fresh (i.e., non-frozen) turkeys on shelves this fall. Author Lisa Fickenscher explained, “As many turkey producers were trying to decide how many birds to hatch for this year’s holiday season, corn prices began ticking up, forcing many farmers to pull back on their supply for fear that the investment would not pay off.”

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August 13, 2021
Friday by Noon:

Doubling Down on the Future

Clearly, people are looking past this Friday the 13th …
From climate to investments to new alliances, the future factored heavily into conversations about food production this past week:

  • U.N. panel predicted climate extremes
  • U.S. Senate approved infrastructure upgrades
  • Alt. protein makers established new partnerships

Planetary Predictions

On August 9, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report on the long-term effects of climate change. The report, which includes analyses from thousands of scientists, projects big changes that will affect food production across the world. Unless your wifi is amazing, we recommend the version “for policy makers” — the full report clocks in at 3,949 pages. No, we haven’t read all of it yet.

  • If bar charts and detailed explanations aren’t your thing, IPCC also created an interactive map that visualizes predictions for temperatures, rainfall, wind speeds and even ocean acidity.
  • The Associated Press noted that this report includes better modeling of how carbon dioxide and methane affect climate. Since livestock are a common source of methane, expect this data to factor into future conversations.
  • Cornell University agricultural economist Chris Barrett explained to Modern Farmer that rising sea levels are “overwhelmingly a problem for rice and aquaculture.”
  • Reuters emphasized one prediction Seattle-dwellers might surely affirm: “Once-in-50-year heat waves now happening every decade.”
  • Matt Casale of U.S. Public Interest Research Group stated, “While the consequences of inaction would be catastrophic, there is no reason we can’t still avoid the worst of it.”
  • As reports like this one become more common, food companies face increasing pressure to disclose steps taken to minimize carbon footprints. Nonprofit group Ceres recently called out companies for lax governance, while The Wall Street Journal covered the implications for finance.

Repairing Roads to Recovery

The U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act this week with bipartisan support, sparking reactions about the effects across the food production system. The bill provides $548 billion for spending on transportation, clean water, power and broadband; it still requires final approval by the U.S. House of Representatives.

  • President Biden responded to the Senate’s passage of the bill: “America has often had the greatest prosperity and made the most progress when we invest in America itself.”
  • The Washington Post explained how the bill would “combine lawmakers’ desire for immediate, urgently needed fixes to the country’s crumbling infrastructure with longer-term goals to combat challenges including climate change.”
  • Restaurant Business warned that the new bill cuts short a pandemic federal aid program for restaurants.
  • Farm Progress dove deep into details of the bill that affect agriculture.
  • USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored the benefits to rural communities: “When rural America reaches its full potential, all of America is better positioned to compete in a global economy.”
  • Food Business News pointed to big funding for rail and waterway improvements. Curious how food crops get around the country? If so, this article has numbers for you!

“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a monumental achievement … that will strengthen the consumer packaged goods supply chain and empower the industry to continue to deliver essential goods to consumers.”

Geoff Freeman, CEO, Consumer Brands Association

Meatless Money

Plant-based everything, from compounds to creameries to salamis, continues to be a hot topic. This week, announcements from major players in the food industry made news as more companies continue to test the alt. protein waters.

  • Pizza Hut announced on August 10 that it is “doubling down on innovation and catering to evolving preferences” by testing a Beyond Pepperoni pizza.
  • Danone partnered with biosciences company Brightseed, the creator of an AI software map that analyzes the health impact of plant-based compounds.
  • In investment news, Miyoko’s Creamery and V2food each raised over $50 million in funding for plant-based products, while Triple Pundit shared that food giant Grupo Bimbo is investing in alternative protein startups.
  • Speaking of Miyoko’s Creamery, a California court ruled on August 10 that the startup can use the word “butter” on labels (Food Navigator). The judge stated, “Quite simply, language evolves.”
  • On Twitter, Tamar Haspel shared her opinion on the labeling case: “The dairy industry lost this war when they didn’t go after peanut butter.”
  • Jenny Splitter from Vox pondered a future where plant-based foods take over the protein industry and what that would mean for key players. Splitter worried, “How workers would fare is less clear.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

‘Ethnic Food’ or ‘Dinner’

Priya Krishna sparked conversation in a recent New York Times article about the “ethnic” aisle in grocery stores, referring to it as a “necessary evil” for producers trying to get their products on shelves. “The section can seem like an anachronism — a cramming of countless cultures into a single small enclave, in a country where an estimated 40% of the population identifies as nonwhite. Even the word ‘ethnic’ … feels meaningless, as everyone has an ethnicity.”

The Kids Are Alright

Politico shared results from the Household Pulse Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau that show a drop of nearly 24% in US hunger rates for households with children. While too early to identify a major factor, researchers believe the recent child tax credit as part of the American Rescue Plan could be closely tied.

The Food That Eats Your Food for You

Fermented foods have been around for millennia, but millennials have only picked up on the trend recently. Coincidentally, scientists are starting to understand the science behind health benefits of foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha. New York Times health writer Anahad O’Connor explained that these foods “alter the makeup of the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit our intestinal tracts, collectively known as the gut microbiome.” Adding to the evidence, Inverse reported that a more diverse gut microbiome reduces the effects of aging.

The Biggest Mac

On August 4, The Guinness Book of World Records uploaded a profile of Donald Gorske, the man who holds the record for the most Big Macs eaten in a lifetime. In the clip, Donald shows off his record-keeping system: 30,000 empty Big Mac boxes with receipts cataloguing 50 years of daily purchases. It is a charming profile of obsessive commitment, but if you are what you eat, Don must have sesame seed buns by now …

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Last night, President Biden stirred discussions about workers by announcing plans for a national vaccination policy — a topic that ...

August 6, 2021
Friday by Noon:

Meatpackers and Metropolises

As we enter the dog days of summer, pandemic vaccine controversies and big business decisions dominated the discussions of the most influential voices in food, beverage and ag.

  • Vaccines – to absolutely no one’s surprise, there’s major controversy.
  • Big Business – themes include new investments, downsizing and marketing moves.

Vax-driven Policy

In a flashback to the first half of 2020, COVID-19 regained its position as the most-discussed topic of the week. Right, we’re not happy about it either. Meatpackers and metropolises addressed the resurgence in cases, with Tyson Foods and New York City stepping up vaccine requirements.

  • Tyson President and CEO Donnie King announced on August 3 that all employees must be fully vaccinated prior to November 1. King commented: “We take this step today because nothing is more important than our team members’ health and safety.”
  • The United Food and Commercial Workers Union objected, “This vaccine mandate must be negotiated so that these workers have a voice in the new policy.”
  • It appears rival meatpacker JBS learned from the pushback and is negotiating with unions prior to any such requirements (Meatingplace).
  • On August 3, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that, as of August 16, people will need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to dine indoors at city restaurants.
  • Larry Lynch of the National Restaurant Association supported the move, but cautioned: “Last year when mask mandates across the country were put in place, restaurant workers suffered terrifying backlash when enforcing those rules. … We hope that the city will take this into consideration and will work with us to ensure there is clear guidance and support for our workforce.”
  • Chicago (Sun Times) and Los Angeles (Times) are reportedly considering vaccine requirements for indoor dining as well, though none have been implemented.
  • Eater reported that several restaurants in San Francisco started receiving retaliatory one-star Yelp reviews from out-of-state users after San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance members implemented vaccine requirements mid-July (Forbes).
  • The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley noted that some restaurants have instead opted to close shop or postpone reopening.

“Vaccination is the key to further economic recovery, reopening and rebuilding.”

Jack Kleinhenz, Chief Economist, National Retail Federation

Simplify, Protest, Promote, Invest

Some major players in food production made noteworthy business decisions to simplify and promote their brands. Meanwhile, major investment in the latest food production trends continues to flow.

  • Concerning PepsiCo’s sale of the Tropicana and Naked brands to a French private equity firm, Ad Age’s E.J. Schultz commented, “The sale continues a trend of companies pruning their brand portfolios to simplify their businesses in the pandemic, or to free resources to pour into up-and-coming product categories.”
  • Downsizing beer happened, too. On August 3, Yahoo’s Kirk Miller lamented Molson Coors’ retirement of 11 “economy” brands from its portfolio: “Pour one out for the terrible cheap beer you drank in college, because 11 of those brands will soon be gone.” Careful, Kirk, some of us like macrobrews.
  • Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (aka Ben & Jerry) wrote a guest essay in the July 28 New York Times that addressed fallout from the brand halting sales in Israel: “Ben & Jerry’s is a company that advocates peace.”
  • Food Processing described Coca-Cola’s first-ever commemorative NFT (non-fungible token). The company will share this four-piece multi-sensory collection “with the metaverse” to benefit the Special Olympics. Confused? Us too.
  • BTS out. Saweetie in. McDonald’s captured so many headlines by featuring pop star Saweetie in its latest celebrity meal, which you can drown in the limited edition “Saweetie ‘N Sour” sauce (CNN).
  • High-tech protein and delivery got a jolt of investment on many fronts, including $235 million to plant-based tech group NotCo (Food Business News), $75 million to Nobell Foods to research synthetic casein for alt-cheese (Food Ingredients First) and $1 billion to delivery company Gopuff (Speciality Foods). Meanwhile, GMO fishery Aquabounty announced it will build a $200 million Ohio facility (Agri-pulse).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Defining ‘Good’ Domestic Aquaculture

Because of growing concerns over using federal waters for farm-raised seafood, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) launched a poll to gauge consumer perception of the practice domestically. According to EDF’s summary, the United States imports more than 85% of the seafood it consumes, and more than half of that is farm-raised in countries with inconsistent stewardship policies. The poll found that Americans are eager to consume more domestically farmed seafood, as long as fisheries follow good stewardship practices.

Should Snacks Be Healthy?

Food Ingredients First shared insight from industry experts on “polarizing” snack trends that have surfaced as a result of the pandemic. A mix of consumer interests including health concerns, meal replacements and even nostalgia, have contributed to the “rise of snackification,” which is redefining the post-pandemic snack market. “Savory snacks are facing a challenge to reposition in a market with a tension between indulgence, quality, health and convenience,” said Sam Russell from Symrise.

A (Carbon) Neutralizing Partnership

Triple Pundit covered The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) partnership to help the dairy industry reach environmental goals. TNC’s Alisha Staggs explained, “The U.S. dairy industry is leading by example with a commitment to environmental sustainability, working toward a set of goals that include cleaner water with maximized recycling and carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Bagels ‘N’ More

Grub Street contributor Jason Diamond penned an opinion about the meaning of “Jewish” restaurants in today’s world. Diamond argued that a true Jewish restaurant needs to take into account a more broad-spanning experience than “an account with Acme Smoked Fish, somebody with a brisket recipe, and a few vintage glass seltzer bottles for decoration.”

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