A collective post-Thanksgiving hangover offered the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture an opportunity to discuss:

  • Retail and foodservice channel delivery
  • Workers’ continued struggles
  • Giving Tuesday’s power to fight hunger and showcase good deeds

At Your Doorstep

After a long weekend in the kitchen, it comes as no surprise to us that food delivery garnered more attention this week. From reducing time in the grocery store to meals prepared in restaurants with no storefront (“ghost kitchens”), American innovation seems hellbent on shortening the time between wanting food and eating it.

  • On November 29, online retailer Boxed.com announced an expansion into food with the purchase of grocery delivery company MaxDelivery.
  • Winsight Grocery Business reported that Walmart launched drone-based delivery in Arkansas on November 22.
  • Supermarket News shared survey findings that suggest the online grocery market is likely to continue growing.
  • Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal published a double feature on counter-trends for restaurant delivery. Heather Haddon and Preetika Rana noted that dine-in-focused brands — including Cheesecake Factory, Dine Brands and Darden — have opted to limit delivery during short-staffed times.
  • Reporter Eliot Brown documented ramifications of rapid growth in the ghost kitchen industry, particularly for category leader Reef.
  • In Nation’s Restaurant News, Euromonitor’s Michael Schaefer wrote: “Consumer demand for delivery is not going away — this is … more about where and how those wings are being prepared.”

“In any given city, the question is whether it is more efficient … to produce wings, pizza, pad thai, etc. through dozens of small kitchens or through a smaller number of larger, more centralized, automated facilities.”

Michael Schaefer, Euromonitor (Nation’s Restaurant News)

Labor Pains

The big workforce news this week was Kellogg’s announcement that it reached a tentative agreement with its striking cereal plant workers. The vaccine mandate also stirred discussion with many trade associations applauding the temporary hold placed on the vaccine mandate. Meanwhile, the labor shortage trudges on.

  • After threatening to hire permanent replacements just last week, Kellogg’s has reached a tentative agreement with the 1,400 cereal plant workers that, if approved, would end a nearly two-month-long strike. On December 5, the worker union will vote on the agreement, which includes 3% raises, “cost of living adjustments and maintains the workers’ current health benefits,” according to the Associated Press.
  • When a Louisiana judge placed OSHA’s vaccine mandate on a temporary hold only a day and a half after it was issued, trade associations like the National Retail Federation applauded the pause due to the “unprecedented burden on millions of businesses across the country.”
  • While the labor shortage is making it hard to find good employees, it’s not all the pandemic’s fault. Food Manufacturing found that “data shows employee turnover has been rising steadily for the past decade and may simply be the new normal employers are going to have to get used to.”
  • Official employment figures reinforced the shortfall in the food and beverage service sector. CNBC covered the issue, noting that a gain of 120,000 workers in October still leaves the industry at a shortfall of more than 500,000 workers from pre-pandemic levels.
  • September job numbers revealed 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, up from 4.3 million in August and 3.6 million pre-pandemic. The Wall Street Journal noted “there were 10.4 million job openings at the end of September, amounting to 1.4 jobs for each unemployed person seeking work.”
  • As many Americans rethink their jobs, some rural community leaders hope they’ll be drawn to the country “for a better and more affordable quality of life,” reported Agri-Pulse.

‘Radical Generosity’

Giving Tuesday provided an opportunity for nonprofits to fundraise and for brands to showcase their do-gooding. ABC News reported American donors gave a record $2.7 billion. Food companies, always in a unique position to help with their communities through hunger relief, contributed to the efforts.

  • In her blog in Meatingplace, Animal Agriculture Alliance’s Hannah Thompson-Weeman discussed the importance of “unleashing the power of radical generosity to transform communities and the world.”
  • Announcing it would donate $1 per sandwich to hunger relief organization Blessings in a Backpack, KFC called a truce on the chicken sandwich wars and challenged its rivals to do the same. All we are saying, is give piece of chicken a chance …
  • As part of its Better Days program, Kellogg’s teamed up with Associated Wholesale Grocers to donate more than $22,000 to Feeding America (Shelby Report).
  • Following through on a company policy “to take care of our customers, team members and community,” retailer Meijer announced plans to donate nearly $3 million to the people and communities it serves in the Midwest (Specialty Foods Association).
  • For every meal ordered through its app or online, Noodles & Company donated $1 to its own foundation dedicated to helping employees (aka “Noodlers”) fund their educations (Nation’s Restaurant News).

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

The New Ice

Researchers at UC Davis have developed a “cooling cube” that offers a triple threat of benefits: it’s compostable, won’t melt, and will cut down on cross contamination. Wait, why didn’t whiskey stones catch on?

Microbes > Microchips

Aanika Biosciences has come to the rescue for those of us who still struggle with the motherly admonition of “don’t eat that, you don’t know where it’s been!” The company, which recently landed $12 million in funding, has developed “edible microbial ‘tags'” that can track food items through the supply chain and boost traceability. The technology can be used directly on crops and has applicability for meats, oils, greens and grains.

Green Mountain Saffron

Modern Farmer described the burgeoning saffron farming industry in Vermont, which now boasts about 200 saffron farms. The spice is typically grown in Iran and Spain and can cost thousands of dollars per pound: “It’s slow work, and must be done by hand. This is one of the reasons for its great cost; it takes an estimated 75,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron.”

The Champagne of Gingerbread

The Milwaukee Sentinel covered how Molson Coors is promoting its Miller High Life brand this season with build-your-own gingerbread dive bar kits. “The gingerbread walls are infused with Miller High Life and there’s Vermont maple syrup to pour on the branded bar floor to “recreate that distinct sticky floor feeling.” The kit will cost $50 and will be available here on December 6.

Bottle Bottleneck

A Food Processing article explained causes of the liquor bottle shortage: “A glass supplier estimated that before the Trump administration, 60% to 70% of America’s glass bottles were made in China. After trade sanctions were imposed on China, orders began to shift to suppliers in Europe and South America. When lockdowns hit, they lasted longer in those regions than in China, roiling the supply chain for glass bottles.”