New-year energy continued to drive discussions this week, prompting:

  • Healthy conversations about what’s healthy.
  • Speculation around rising food costs.
  • Commentary on worker shortages, strikes and union activity.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964)

No Time to Diet

Health was top of mind with many influential writers and organizations. However, much of the discussion sought to debunk January’s conventional reputation.

  • Health concerns punctuated the International Food Information Council’s report on 2022 food trends: “Consumers are proactively looking for positive food attributes like whole grains and fiber, and they’re exploring immune health more so than previously.”
  • Instead of starting a new diet, New York Times author David Leonhardt suggested that readers “audit” their current diet choices in January: “The key issue is finding a sustainable way to eat healthily, in terms of both quality and quantity. Very few New Year’s resolution diets are sustainable.”
  • Eater interviewed registered dietitian Christy Harrison, who explained how to survive January’s tough climate of diet messaging and “the insidious ways that the diet industry is seeking to turn decades-old diet plans into ‘new and improved’ programs that allegedly promote ‘wellness.'”
  • In The Washington Post, registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom explained that detox juices are unnecessary.
  • Challenging conventional wisdom that kids need different types of foods than adults, the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) could not be more clear: “There is no difference between healthful foods for adults and for children aged 2 and older, except for age-appropriate adjustments in texture and portion size.”
  • Food & Wine compiled a list of several contrarian centenarians whose diets included consistent doses of things like gin-soaked raisins and Big Macs. Yes, it’s as inspirational as it sounds.

Price Creep

The ripple effects of disrupted supply chains have compounded over the past two years and continue to inflate the costs of food production. As everything from frankfurters to fertilizer becomes more expensive, fast food does, too.

  • As non-food inflation reached 40-year highs, the most recent food inflation figures showed a 6.3% price rise in December compared with last year (The Washington Post).
  • Food Manufacturing reported on USDA figures that show butter prices have risen by 40% year-over-year.
  • Bloomberg tracked a 60% increase in romaine prices, but failed to factor in expansive recalls of Fresh Express and Simple Truth branded leafy greens.
  • In a January 13 investor call, Conagra Brands explained that inflation has outpaced earlier predictions. Food Business News quoted President and CEO Sean Connolly on a related prediction: “Millennial and Gen Z consumers … will remain more value-focused than their predecessors.”
  • While some restaurants switched to cheaper cuts of meat, Domino’s Pizza opted to instead limit value offers and reduce chicken wing orders from 10 to eight pieces, according to Restaurant Business writer Jonathan Maze.
  • On the farm, rising costs are hitting farmers’ bottom lines. A Purdue University survey found that 39% of respondents had “difficulty purchasing crop inputs.” Texas A&M estimated that, on average, fertilizer will cost between $64,000 and $128,000 more per farm in 2022.

Worker Woes

Exasperating the existing labor shortage, the omicron variant’s quick spread among U.S. workers is disrupting everything from meat plant production to retail store hours. Weary workers are being pushed to their limits, reinforcing moves to unionize and strike.

  • As COVID-19 infections spread through the workforce, meat plants were forced to slow production at a time when demand is booming. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that “a sustained period of lower production could further increase high meat prices.”
  • The spread of the omicron variant at the nation’s busiest port complex hindered efforts to clear a large backlog of container ships. The Wall Street Journal said “about 800 dockworkers — roughly 1 in 10 of the daily workforce at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — were unavailable for COVID-related reasons as of Monday.”
  • The New York Times reported retail workers are calling out sick after contracting COVID-19 or being exposed to someone who had it while at work. Workers say that with so many out sick, morale is low and consumers are experiencing longer checkout lines and empty store shelves.
  • In Denver, more than 8,000 Kroger supermarket workers went on strike this week for better wages after negotiations stalled (Reuters). To remain open, the stores hired temporary staff and promoted online ordering.
  • The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) scheduled a second unionization vote for workers at an Alabama Amazon facility (CNBC). NLRB found that Amazon violated a labor law during the first election held last year, when the workers voted against unionizing.
  • The Counter revealed that, since a Buffalo-area store voted to unionize last month, Starbucks is experiencing “a swelling wave of labor activism.” In the past week, four additional stores across the U.S. have filed for union elections with NLRB.
  • On January 13, the Supreme Court overturned the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employees at large companies (CNBC).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Defining a Good Cap

Packaging Insights reported that global packaging leader Tetra Pak partnered with French creamery Elvir to develop the industry’s first carton cap made from recycled materials. “As a signatory of the UN Global Compact and in support of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, responsible sourcing is a strategic objective for our organization,” Tetra Pak’s Davide Braghiroli told the publication.

Yeah, but How Do You Pronounce It?

After years of battling European cheese authorities over nomenclature, a U.S. District Court ruled that gruyere cheese made in the United States can be called as such (Feedstuffs). The Consortium for Common Food Names (it’s a thing) and U.S. dairy groups called this a “vital precedent” in the ongoing battle over food names, paving the way perhaps for parmesan, bologna or chateau. On top of this, The Association for Dressings & Sauces (also a thing) petitioned the FDA to revoke the standard of identity for French dressing — and won.

Football Field to Fork

Frito Lay is commemorating its return to Super Bowl advertising by releasing one-of-a-kind, limited-edition Lay’s potato chips. According to Lay’s, the Golden Grounds chips were made from potatoes grown in fields containing dirt collected from 29 different NFL fields. Fun fact: only 16 NFL stadiums have real grass.

Swimming in Data

Our World in Data presented fascinating data visualizations on the global fishing industry. The accompanying article suggests that, over the past half century, the world population has doubled and eats twice the fish per capita. In response, the global fishing industry has quadrupled in size: taxing resources, forcing aquaculture to eclipse traditional fisheries and disrupting many species.