If the only constant is change, this week was aggressively constant.

  • Dairy Farmers of America to buy bankrupt Dean Foods.
  • Farming groups launch new sustainability org.
  • Food brands shift policies.

“Livestock and crop production are the heart of American agriculture, providing the food we enjoy every day. Ensuring this production continues sustainably is essential for people and the planet.”

Farmers for a Sustainable Future

MOOving forward

On February 17, the country’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), struck a $425 million deal to acquire Dean Foods, which declared bankruptcy in November 2019.

  • DFA President and CEO Rick Smith listed “secure markets for our members’ milk and minimal disruption to the U.S. dairy industry” as reasons for pursuing the deal.
  • While the two parties have come to an agreement, the deal is still pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. The New York Times highlighted possible conflicts of interest and antitrust violations.
  • Feedstuffs noted the agreement is still subject to higher or otherwise better offers. The deadline for other interested parties to be considered a potential bidder is March 31.
  • The International Brotherhood of Teamsters updated its union members about developments in the deal.

A Sustainable Birth Announcement

On February 21, 21 industry groups representing a wide array of food producers formed Farmers for a Sustainable Future (FSF). The initiative focuses on “producing the world’s food, feed and fiber supply in a sustainable way.” The next day, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the “Agriculture Innovation Agenda” — a promise by the USDA to “stimulate innovation” so American ag can simultaneously increase production by 40% and cut farmers’ environmental impact in half by 2050.

  • FarmProgress summarized FSF’s guiding principles. The group is prioritizing science-based research, conservation programs, investment in infrastructure, and “solutions that ensure vibrant rural communities and a healthy planet.”
  • Brownfield Ag News advanced the idea that the group’s true purpose is “to serve as a primary resource for lawmakers and policymakers as they consider climate policies.”
  • The organization launched a Twitter account, but has only introduced itself and retweeted partner content from the cotton, rice, corn and beef industries.
  • On the subject of climate policy, Politico‘s coverage of the USDA announcement called out the initiative’s omission of any mention of climate change. Claiming “instead, it will focus on research, innovation and improving USDA’s ability to collect data on farmers’ conservation practices.”
  • AgWeb also cited the original reporting from Politico that accused the USDA of suppressing climate change research in its coverage of Thursday’s announcement.

Keeping Up with the Nestlés

The Intel Distillery carefully tracks food industry positions on sourcing, ingredients and practices. Recent policy change has focused on environmental stewardship, farm animal care, packaging and worker issues. These policies — which often cite consumer interest or activist pressure as their genesis — affect food trends down the supply chain. 2020 has already seen a handful of announcements from noteworthy food service companies and manufacturers.

  • Taco Bell vowed to use recyclable, compostable or reusable materials for consumer-facing packaging by 2025. (1/9/20)
  • Popeyes committed to “a set of standards that will meaningfully improve chicken welfare in the company’s supply chain” no later than 2024. (1/17/20)
  • A coalition of major North American berry producers committed to 100% recycle-ready packaging by 2025. (2/4/20)
  • Hershey’s will source cage-free eggs across all countries and divisions by 2025. (2/7/20)
  • Unilever pledged to stop marketing and advertising foods and beverages to children under the age of 12 by the end of 2020. (2/11/20)
  • Perdue reached its goal of providing outdoor access in 25% of its chicken houses by January 2020. (2/18/20)
  • Burger King removed artificial preservatives from its Whopper and artificial colors and flavors from all core menu sandwiches in most of Europe and select U.S. markets. (2/19/20)
  • Hormel will no longer process hogs given ractopamine (a growth promotant) as of April 2020. (2/18/20)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

A Bigger Table

Food Business News covered the launch of Bigger Table, a nonprofit organization that brings together Chicagoland food and beverage companies with a shared mission of fighting food insecurity. Ten companies, including members of Bader Rutter’s Intel Distillery team, pooled their formulation, ingredient, packaging and marketing know-how to develop the first Bigger Table product: a low-sugar, high-protein hot cocoa product.

Top-shelf Analytics

In the past, the data technology that predicted emerging retail shopping trends was expensive and exclusive to major brands. On February 19, The Wall Street Journal’s Annie Gasparro wrote that smaller players have instead begun using their own proprietary research, leaving big brands to re-evaluate retail strategies.

Bug Butter

Food & Wine tried to convince readers of the benefits of a new kind of butter replacement: insect fat. The article cites a study conducted at Ghent University in Belgium that describes insect-based fat as a sustainable and healthy alternative to butter. Reportedly, “When in bakery products, less than half of the butter is replaced by insect fat, one can hardly taste the difference.”

What’s Eating America<br>

On February 16, chef and television personality Andrew Zimmern debuted “What’s Eating America” on MSNBC. The limited-run series will feature Zimmern traveling across the country to explore “the most provocative social and political issues impacting voters through the lens of food.” Topics highlighted in the teaser range from immigration and climate change to voting rights and health care.

Food as Medicine

Dr. Dhruv Khullar — physician and assistant professor of hospital medicine and health care policy at Weill Cornell — penned a perspective in The Washington Post promoting food as a “tastier and potentially more ­cost-effective treatment” for chronic disease. Dr. Khullar points to diet as a key driver of illness in the United States and uses the article to highlight programs with meal plans designed to support the patient’s nutritional needs.