September 8, 2023
Gettin’ Pumpkin Spicy
The leaves may be changing in some regions, but we aren’t putting our sweaters on just yet.
- Fall flavors arrived while analysts speculated on long-term food trends.
- Food companies atoned for past hiring and compensation practices.
- Farmers, freighters and food makers adopted new technologies.
‘Shorthand for Fall’
Officially, it may not be fall yet. But Labor Day has passed and brands are in the process of swapping out seasonal food offerings. At the same time, industry groups and market analysts have been predicting consumers’ future demands.
- The pumpkin spice latte has returned for its 20th year. On NPR, host Brittany Luse and trend forecaster Suzy Badaracco discussed how the drink came to be “shorthand for fall, for basicness, for femininity, and even for white culture.”
- Food Management shared fall semester trend predictions from campus caterer Chartwells.
- New York Times reporter Sara Ziegler wrote that the signature drink of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the honey deuce, is making a splash due to high demand for the souvenir cup.
- The Good Food Institute, which represents manufacturers of alternative proteins, published an analysis of sales data that shows plant-based protein sales increasing at foodservice, partially offsetting weak retail sales.
- The Whole Grains Council conducted a survey that found 57% of consumers say they have increased consumption of whole grains in the past five years. Meanwhile, the Star Tribune reported that the ancient grain Kernza has yet to catch on.
- An Innova Market Insights survey concluded that inflation continues to be a factor in retail purchases, hitting clean label and sustainability claims hardest (Supermarket Perimeter).
- Frozen pizza maker DiGiorno released a half-pineapple, half-pickle pizza, which it claims is the “most debatable pizza ever.” The toppings may turn heads, but New Yorkers seem to have a lot more to say about Chicago deep dish.
Laboring Coast to Coast
Pre- and post-Labor Day, the U.S. labor scene has been a smorgasbord of contract talks, safety concerns, lawsuits and immigration challenges that are forcing the market to face existing challenges head-on. The pandemic’s aftermath, shifting retail job dynamics and evolving workplace trends are actively shaping the narrative of the American workforce.
- The New York Times reported that dockworkers on the West Coast have endorsed a new six-year contract, potentially alleviating tensions and bolstering confidence among shippers, which could result in increased cargo volumes crucial for businesses across the nation.
- Dollar Tree and Family Dollar addressed worker safety concerns through a $1.35 million settlement with OSHA, highlighting the importance of employee well-being.
- Grist wrote that West Coast food truck owners in places like Portland, Oregon, are grappling with the challenges of operating in increasingly hot and prolonged summer heat waves.
- Sean Kennedy from the National Restaurant Association issued a statement in opposition to the Department of Labor’s proposed update of overtime regulations, increasing the minimum salary threshold by 55%, stating the proposed rule will add to the already high costs of labor and food.
- Agri-Pulse writer Jacqui Fatka suggested the uncertainty created by Congress’ inability to advance immigration reform through the H-2A program for seasonal workers is impacting farmers and could lead U.S. agricultural production to shift to foreign competitors.
- Progressive Grocer senior editor Lynn Petrak wondered if worker shortages in the food industry will ease, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that show the general unemployment rate rose to 3.8% in August.
Novel technologies are being implemented at every link in the food, beverage and agriculture supply chain. Above all else, prolonged worker shortages have motivated substantial investment in automation across the board:
- Technology matchmaking for the food industry | FMI, The Food Industry Association
- Sodexo to deploy SavorEat’s plant-based burger printing robot at the University of Denver | The Spoon
- SpartanNash invests in more AI tools to predict shopper demand | Progressive Grocer
- AI plays a role in food waste solutions | Supermarket Perimeter
- Tyson Foods, Gatik to deploy autonomous trucks in Arkansas | Feedstuffs
- Alphabet’s Wing partners with Walmart for drone deliveries in Dallas | The Verge
- Rise of the spray drone | The Scoop
- Clean tractors and the energy-independent farm of the future | Triple Pundit
- Farmers in some states relying more heavily on rural broadband for precision ag | DTN/Progressive Farmer
What’s Good This Week? Renovating Food Banks.
In concert with September’s Hunger Action Month, grocer Food Lion launched its Great Pantry Makeover. The program organizes volunteer associates to help remodel 27 food banks across the company’s operating area with painting, cleaning, and new equipment to expand food banks’ capacity for fresh fruits and vegetables. Since 2014, their charitable arm Food Lion Feeds has provided over 1 billion meals and is committed to reaching 1.5 billion by 2025.
So Long, Chef?
Has the celebrity chef era met its end? Grub Street detailed how many restaurants in New York City are thriving without a big-name chef at their kitchen’s helm. As an increasing number of consumers have come to value and prioritize the atmosphere of the places at which they eat, only time will tell if the clout of a culinary visionary is still enough to draw a crowd.
The Wall Street Journal described the pricing tug-of-war between delivery apps like DoorDash and restaurant owners. Because of the increasing cut taken by these apps, foodservice operators said they’re forced to make menu items for delivery more expensive. “Food-delivery apps lack control over the prices of the goods they deliver. … The lack of similar leverage for delivery companies, plus the extra fees they charge, mean ordering in is generally far pricier than picking up.”
Ag not on the Ballot — Why Not?
In The Washington Examiner, Bill Wirtz from the Consumer Choice Center examined (Get it?) why presidential candidates have not discussed or debated agricultural issues such as fertilizer shortages, organic subsidies or pesticide authorizations. “These are questions that aren’t being asked to presidential candidates, even though once in office, the president has a key impact on those matters through his or her agency appointments.”
A study published in the journal Nutrients compiled data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to find that 12% of Americans eat half of U.S. beef. According to the Tulane University authors, the findings “may help consumer groups and government agencies craft educational messaging around the negative health and environmental impacts of beef consumption.”
Nuggets of Truth
Forget chicken sandwich wars and LTOs; a recent study from Revenue Management Solutions, cited in Nation’s Restaurant News, details chicken’s meteoric rise in QSRs. Among a dizzying number of other poultry-related facts and trends, RMS asserts that consumers tend to choose chicken options based on the products, rather than brand or price. At the same time, when prices do rise, that trend softens. Interestingly, price tends to be more of a factor when buying nuggets. Go figure.
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