Developments in Texas, New Orleans, Buffalo, France and China all contributed to a colorful week:

  • A cold snap shocked much of the nation and froze supply chains in Texas.
  • Food trends encompassed all the good stuff: paczki, hot dogs, spices and … Grape Nuts?!
  • Industry leaders speculated on export expectations.

“While throwing out food due to an appliance failure or power outage is wasteful, it is a lot cheaper to do than paying for medical treatment due to foodborne illness.”

Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University (Food Safety News)

Frozen Food

Extremely cold temperatures as well as massive snow and ice accumulations wreaked havoc on the country’s food system this week. Texas, where the agriculture commissioner issued a critical alert for the state’s food supply, saw the worst effects.

  • Eater looked at the “food crisis” in Texas with grocery stores struggling to operate amid power outages and short staffing and restaurants serving “as impromptu warming stations, offering shelter … food and drink, and even free coats and blankets for people in need.”
  • Bloomberg examined how weather snarled shipments at ports at a time when China is “loading up on American crops.”
  • The Produce News described the cold snap as the “Valentine’s Day produce massacre.”
  • USDA assured farmers and ranchers that risk management programs and disaster assistance is available for those impacted by the storms.
  • The unfolding crisis in Texas hit ranchers hard as temperatures left cattle exposed and threatened water supplies, while dairies had to dump milk due to plant shutdowns (Reuters).
  • In Food Safety News, Kansas State University’s Karen Blakeslee warned not to use snowbanks in place of freezers. Bringing ice inside to freezers will do better than leaving food to the whims of wildlife and fluctuating temperatures.

Spicy Trends

Some noteworthy end-user trends popped up: spicy, fishy, religious and pandemic-induced items all factored in.

  • The Wall Street Journal’s Bee Wilson noted, “The spice aisle of the American supermarket, with its jars of Middle Eastern za’atar and Japanese shichimi, is unrecognizable next to its equivalent a few decades ago.” A week earlier, the Journal interviewed McCormick CFO about the spice giant’s recent success.
  • Did you know there was a run on Grape Nuts? Post’s one-of-a-kind wheat and barley breakfast will be back on shelves after a months-long shortage and social media outrage (The New York Times). Gravel lovers everywhere, rejoice.
  • The hot dog rankings are here! The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council listed not only the top hot dog markets, but also the top markets where hot dogs are most popular. Buffalo, New York, which topped the popularity list, “is the only city with a baseball stadium named after its hot dog brand, Sahlen’s.”
  • The Counter countered, “Record sales prove pizza is the perfect food,” due to affordability, deliverability and ability to satisfy any appetite.
  • On Fat Tuesday, Eater posted a guide to popular pre-Lenten krapfen, paczki, pasties and semlor, writing, “European bakeries disrupt the bleakness of midwinter with windows and display cases filled with delightfully rich sweets seldom seen the rest of the year.”
  • As Lent started on Wednesday, a school of fish menu items made the news. In particular, Washington Post reporter Emily Heil called Popeye’s fried flounder sandwich “a muted sequel to its chicken sandwich blockbuster.”

Boatloads of Beans

International markets for food and agricultural products have once again piqued the interest of influential figures in the industry. Discussion revolved around how the Biden administration would establish trade policy given its reduced importance compared with the Trump administration priorities.

  • USDA estimated that 2021 will bring both record exports and imports of food and ag goods. This followed news that 2020 was the second-best year on record for exports, including $25.7 billion of soybeans. That’s no hill of beans.
  • After Chinese buyers purchased record amounts of corn (primarily for pig feed) during the final week of January, Farm Journal’s Tyne Morgan pondered whether the move was meant to fulfill the ‘Phase One’ trade agreement or ingratiate the Biden administration.
  • On February 11, the U.S. International Trade Council concluded an investigation of blueberry imports from Mexico, finding no foul play.
  • The World Trade Organization on February 15 announced that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will lead the group as Director-General. After Trump opposed renewing U.S. membership in the WTO, the Biden administration committed to support it and welcomed Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration plans to keep tariffs on European food and wine. Perhaps we should stop whining about expensive cheese.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Intangible Treasure

CNN Travel described how French bakers have submitted the baguette for UNESCO’s listing of cultural treasures: “Bakers say the traditional craft loaf, whose purchase from the local bakery has for decades been a ritual in French daily life, is being pushed off shop shelves, even in France, by frozen bread sticks made on giant assembly lines.”

Land Lovers

On Valentine’s Day, Natural Resources Defense Council wrapped up its four-part series advocating for regenerative agriculture concluding, “The regenerative agriculture movement is reviving an Indigenous approach to agriculture and flipping the narrative to show how agriculture can help restore ecologies, fight climate change, rebuild relationships, spark economic development, and bring people — consumers AND farmers and ranchers — joy.”

Eating Less Emissions

Also on Valentine’s Day, Bill Gates posted an essay on his Gates Notes blog about how to fight climate change. The philanthropist listed eating a plant-based burger as one of four actions consumers can take: “Buying these products sends a clear message that making them is a wise investment. In addition, eating a meat substitute (or simply not eating meat) just once or twice a week will cut down on the emissions you’re responsible for.”

No Fishing!

SeafoodSource reported that more than 150 seafood businesses banded together to call for an end to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. On February 16, the group endorsed the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability’s “Statement on Traceability and Port State Measures.” UN Ambassador Peter Thomson said, “There must be nowhere to land and nowhere to sell fish and seafood that is caught illegally.”

Food, Wine & Faux Meat

The editors of Food & Wine compiled no less than seven vignettes for their February 16 “Guide to Plant-Based Meat.” Though we, and almost every regulator and processor, refrain from calling these alternatives “meat,” some of the guidelines are useful and thought-provoking, including “Men, Meat and Marketing.”