“Adding guac to your meal should be free for everyone, everywhere. It’s that simple. Why should a customer be penalized for making a meal more flavorful?”

Qdoba, online petition on National Avocado Day

Fast-Food Frenzy

This week, some quick-service restaurant brands debuted new menu items, others nixed less-popular ones and still others leaned into corporate social responsibilities in the struggle to capture consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets.

  • The Wall Street Journal reported Dunkin’ joined the “meatless rush,” when the company announced a breakfast sandwich made with Beyond Meat’s vegetarian “sausage” at Manhattan stores, then nationwide. Other changes at Dunkin’ include eliminating all styrofoam cups by 2020. Food Business News reported this “could remove up to 1 billion foam cups from the waste stream annually,” citing a new sustainability report released by the company.
  • Food & Wine summarized Market Force’s annual “America’s favorite” fast-food chain poll of over 7,600 consumers. One notable shift in the power rankings: last year’s reigning champ, In-N-Out, is out. The new favorite? Chick-fil-A.
  • Bloomberg reported Yum! China Holdings Inc., the owner of KFC in China, “plans to accelerate the opening of new locations in China as its KFC chain beat expectations by drawing in more customers with discounts and delivery.” Yum! Brands also announced new CEOs of Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
  • Wednesday, July 31, was National Avocado Day. In interviews with foodservice leaders, USA Today explored the ups and downs of charging extra for guacamole and avocado.
  • Taco Bell announced it will “reduce antibiotics important to human health in its U.S. and Canada beef supply chain by 25% by 2025.” Beef is the most prevalent protein on the Taco Bell menu. The brand contends focusing on beef will “better protect human, animal and environmental health.”
  • Plant-based brand JUST Inc. and breakfast chain Tim Hortons announced a new partnership on July 25. CNBC reported Tim Hortons will begin testing JUST Egg, a liquid egg alternative, at a handful of locations in its home market. This makes Tim Hortons the first major fast-food chain to partner with the vegan egg-substitute maker.
  • Baskin-Robbins debuted its first nondairy ice cream offerings on July 24. The company’s website describes the new menu items as “vegan takes on classic fan-favorites. Made with a base blend of coconut oil and almond butter,” and boasts “the result is a dessert so rich and indulgent, you won’t be able to tell that it’s not the full-dairy version.” That’s a tall claim.

Don’t Read While Eating

In less-appetizing news, this week’s analysis revealed a collection of stories that are likely to curb your appetite. Read this section for a quick debrief on things to look out for and what foods not to buy or order this weekend.

  • A U.S. Foods study revealed that approximately 21% of delivery customers worry the delivery driver may have sampled their food en route, and of drivers surveyed, 28% confirmed that they do in fact take the occasional nibble.
  • In a University of Illinois study, customers shared unsettling stories of finding wild animals – sometimes alive – in prepackaged produce. Results revealed “21 of the 40 reported incursions under review involved amphibians.” On top of that, “rodents, snakes, lizards, birds and even a bat found their way into bagged lettuces, spinach and cut green beans.” Um, no thanks.
  • Consumer Reports tested 284 samples of fresh greens from chains like Acme, Costco and Whole Foods and found a high percentage were tainted with the infectious bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
  • Food Safety News publicized new research that links contamination of leafy greens with E. coli from feedlots via “pest flies.” The study’s abstract is careful to note: “Further research is needed to clarify this role and to determine set-back distances between cattle production facilities and produce crops that will reduce the risk for pathogen contamination by challenging mechanisms like flies.”
  • Food Safety News also covered a “national epidemic” of hepatitis A, which the article says “happens all too frequently in restaurants when an employee comes to work while infected.” The article warns “anyone who is not vaccinated is at risk from the contagious liver disease.” Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Washington state have all reported cases so far this year, readers are encouraged to employ other preventative measures in addition to the vaccine, such as “practicing strong hygiene habits such as thoroughly washing your hands after using the bathroom.”
  • Okay, that’s enough on that topic …

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

The Flexitarians Are Coming

Contrasting the plant-based trend, Food & Wine profiled flexitarians: “People who eat meat, but also eat vegetarian and vegan alternatives, too.” Nielsen data cited in the article reveals “that 98% of people who purchased plant-based meat also bought regular meat …Those numbers imply that a large majority of the people buying fake meat are regular meat eaters that only occasionally dabble with buying plant-based alternatives.” Food & Wine blames the discrepancy between the research on consumer attitudes and plant-based sales on convenience and availability. In addition to meat being easier to find, cost of plant-based options can also be prohibitive.

Private Shelf Space

The Wall Street Journal compared sales of branded food products from Kraft, Smucker and Conagra with sales of private-label products — and the big brands did not fare well. “Retail sales of private-label foods and beverages have notched faster year-over-year gains than branded items for three consecutive fiscal years,” the article reports, listing higher margins, comparable products and cheap marketing campaigns as benefits for retailers investing in private label products. The article quotes Gil Phipps, Kroger’s vice president of branding, marketing and private brands: “It’s about offering customers what they can’t get anywhere else.”

We’re Out!

Amid public pressure over their contributions to plastic pollution, both Coca Cola and PepsiCo announced they’ve cut ties with the Plastics Industry Association. “We withdrew earlier this year as a result of positions the organization was taking that were not fully consistent with our commitments and goals,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told CNBC. In the past, both companies made promises to reduce plastic waste and incorporate sustainable packaging, so this break from the trade union is just another step in making good on corporate sustainability and responsibility commitments. According to the article, “A PepsiCo spokesperson said the company initially joined the Plastics Industry Association to learn about material innovation but will end its membership at the end of the year since the association “does not participate in the policy advocacy work of the association or its subsidiaries.”

Gearing Up for Expansion

On July 31, Meat + Poultry reported that Impossible Foods had entered into a co-manufacturing agreement with OSI Industries, the company best known for producing beef patties for McDonalds. The agreement added manufacturing capacity to process the Impossible Burger and will help the brand’s expansion into retail outlets later this year. Removing another barrier to retail expansion, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would amend its color additive regulations to allow the use of soy leghemoglobin, the ingredient that gives the Impossible Burger its juicy, bleeding quality.