Thanks, again, for indulging our Independence Day off. We hope your holiday was chock full of interesting culinary adventures (Yes, we tried mustard on watermelon. No, we don’t get it.). As we cross into the second half of 2021, here’s a snapshot of what the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture had to say recently:

  • The U.S. megadrought’s grip tightens in Western and Midwest states.
  • Food prices fell, but remain high.
  • Several outlets paused for midyear reflections on food production.

“[Food prices are] telling us something about the global food system not being adequate.”

Cullen Hendrix, economist, University of Denver (The Washington Post)

Dry and Mighty

Although rain provided drought relief to parts of the Midwest, the West still suffers greatly from a heat wave and megadrought. While the impact is most severe in agriculture, its effects will reverberate throughout the food system.

  • The Counter posted several late-June articles capturing different perspectives on the drought, such as farmers selling water, grasshoppers ravaging rangelands and heat damaging crops in the Pacific Northwest.
  • The June 29 U.S. Drought Monitor Map indicated “severe” to “exceptional” drought conditions across more than half of the country.
  • Scientific American described how the unprecedented 93% of the land in Western states in drought conditions crushed the 2003 record of 43%.
  • Agri-Pulse detailed the specific geographies and areas of production agriculture affected by the drought.
  • A July 7 post in The Hustle explained the drought’s effects on almond growing in California. Farmers are taking drastic measures like halting profitable exports despite very high demand.
  • Eater Seattle captured the foodservice scene in the region, where many restaurants closed shop due to extreme heat.
  • Looking ahead, Bloomberg’s Brian Kelly reported that this year’s La Niña weather pattern will likely mean less winter snow, decreasing needed water for 2022’s planting season.

Pandemic Pricing

Since the beginning of the pandemic, supply chain disruptions have driven higher food prices. Shifting demand, shipping delays and a shrinking labor pool have all contributed.

  • On July 8, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that world food prices fell 2.5% from May to June … but remained 33.9% above last year’s prices.
  • Consumer Brands Association recognized the difficulty of managing supply chains when “demand has been up since the start of COVID-19.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that grocers are stockpiling inventory to get ahead of potential price increases.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that July 4th cookouts cost about the same as last year.
  • Focusing on environmental and health factors, Sustainable Food Trust Director Patrick Holden flipped the narrative, instead asking, “How much should food cost?” Less than our salaries, please.

Can Deliverability Match Sustainability?

Half of 2021 is in the books and a bevy of midyear reflections have crossed our desk. Below are some notable examples. Look out for your Intel Distillery Q2 Top Ten Topics report soon.

  • GrubHub published its “State of the Plate” listicle on the platform’s most-popular food orders of 2021 so far. Many dishes of interest made the list, including chocolate French silk pie and its impressive 700% growth.
  • Food Dive summarized a Coresight Research report, which predicts meal kits will see a sharp deceleration from 70% growth in 2020 to 18% growth in 2021.
  • After delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats became a “lifeline” for foodservice, The New York Times explained why restaurants consider delivery here to stay. The article cites a JD Power survey which found 71% of consumers plan to keep up their pandemic-level delivery orders.
  • Rabobank’s July “Talking Points” blog post placed consumers front and center in its five emerging trends of 2021 so far. The trends include: food price inflation, orange juice demand, hard seltzer proliferation, U.S. beef demand, and quickly changing consumer preferences.
  • Food Business News shared a midyear study, conducted by ingredient company Kerry, that found that nearly half of consumers worldwide consider sustainability attributes when purchasing food and beverages. Additionally, sustainability attributes were most important for animal products (and their plant-based imitators) and less important for beverages and snacks.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

What About Broasting?

Modern Farmer explored the differences between baking and roasting. Although the differences are small and antiquated thanks to modern appliances, the article is … worth reading (see what we did there?). One example included the nuance: “a baked food can be covered or not covered, but a roasted food is not covered.”

Tinned Fish Is So Hot Right Now

The cool kids have finally discovered tinned fish. On fashion/culture website Nylon, Brooklyn-based culture writer Sophia June documented “the internet’s newest obsession.” June interviewed Caroline Goldfarb, the founder of sustainable brand Fishwife, who said, “Tinned fish is the ultimate hot girl food … There is no food that will make you hotter than tinned fish. Straight up. Do you know a hot girl who doesn’t exist on protein? I don’t.”

The Bun-Dog Paradox

Kraft Heinz launched an ad campaign (and petition) to get food manufacturers to sell the same quantity of hot dogs as buns in packages. In AdWeek’s coverage, T.L. Stanley wrote, “There’s a fairly logical reason … But who cares about food manufacturing history when this gross inequity continues to plague us?” Students of food production would know that Vienna Beef and S. Rosens solved this way back in 2005. But maybe that’s a Chicago thing.

Free Meals for All

California’s new state budget permanently extended free lunch to public school students, lifting income requirements and eligibility checks that were waived during the pandemic (Feedstuffs). Meanwhile, members of Congress, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), are pushing for federal legislation as part of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization: “With USDA currently providing universal school meals through the 2021-2022 school year, now is the time to take bold action and make universal school meals a permanent reality.”

New Nü Meat

In the always-interesting alternative protein corner, two posts caught our attention. The Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Bunge interviewed Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown, who admitted that bacon was a “holy grail” product to develop, along with chicken breast and steak. Going the more traditional (and simple) meatless route, Wendy’s announced a limited test for its black bean, chickpea and brown rice burger. Wendy’s CMO Carl Loredo said, “Consumers are demanding plant-based sandwiches, and we’re answering the call in a way that only Wendy’s can with a mouthwatering sandwich packed with multiple layers of heat and flavor.”

Nose No-Nos

Here’s another case of “do they really need to tell us not to do that?” On TODAY, doctors warned against following TikTok advice to place peeled garlic cloves up your nose to cure sinus blockages. Explained one doctor, “I am not surprised that this is something that people thought might be helpful. But it’s definitely not helpful.”