It’s Friday. It’s noon. It’s Lent. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. What’s for lunch?

  • Online grocery, e-grocery, e-commerce, omnichannel — whatever you call it, it’s here to stay.
  • The USDA upset the meat industry and Canada with updates to a labeling law.
  • There’s a lot happening down on the farm.

“Catholics who find themselves at an event where meat is served in celebrating St. Patrick may in good conscience substitute the general rule of abstinence with another form of penance or a significant act of charity that benefits the poor.”

Archdiocese of Chicago

Convenience for Every Demographic

The two biggest business themes in retail grocery lately are speculation on the Kroger-Albertsons merger and the uncertain future of grocery delivery. Talks about the megamerger proceeded, with the companies agreeing to divest in up to 300 stores in order to overcome antitrust concerns and gain regulatory approval (Reuters). Meanwhile, here are some interesting developments in grocery delivery and e-commerce in a (fingers crossed) post-pandemic market.

  • Writing for Supermarket News and fresh out of the NGA Show, entrepreneur Jeff Anders outlined the many obstacles independent grocers face in e-commerce.
  • Food Business News reporter Jeff Gelski covered an investor meeting where Walmart CFO John David Rainey described the retailer’s position on delivery, which brought in more than a billion dollars in January: “convenience is something that appeals to every income demographic.”
  • Summarizing a Brick Meets Click/Mercatus survey, Supermarket News noted that the grocery e-commerce base is growing while frequency is slowing. Apparently, order volume has fallen below pandemic levels for the first time.
  • Andy Nelson from Supermarket Perimeter described the loyalty challenges supermarkets face amid third-party apps. The article also captured a few astonishing facts: “69% of all digital grocery sales came via a grocer’s website… [and] digital sales are expected to total $146 billion in 2023, accounting for 15.3% of all grocery sales.”

Born in the U.S.A.

On March 6, the USDA proposed new requirements for meat, poultry and egg products to use the “Product of USA” label. The update closes a loophole where livestock could be born or raised in another country, but slaughtered and processed in the United States to use the label.

  • The new requirements align with USDA survey data that show 63% of consumers “[think] the claim means that all production steps take place in the United States.” Of the remainder, 21% didn’t know what the label meant.
  • National Farmers Union President Rob Larew cheered, “This rule is about truth in labeling, plain and simple.”
  • North American Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts disagreed: “Our members make considerable investments to produce beef, pork, lamb, veal and poultry products in American facilities, employing hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S. and with processes overseen by USDA inspectors. This food should be allowed to be labeled a ‘Product of the USA.'”
  • National Chicken Council president Mike Brown added that the label is duplicative: “Consumers seeking USA chicken can already find the ‘Hatched, Raised & Harvested in the U.S.’ label on American chicken.”
  • The rule revives a decade-old international trade dispute. Meatingplace covered the reaction from Canadian trade minister Mary Ng, who reminded rulemakers that the World Trade Organization issued judgments against a similar country of origin labeling law in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
  • While we’re on the topic of labels that consumers don’t understand, Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk studied how a “sustainability facts” label would affect purchase decisions.

Field Report

As farmers gear up for spring planting, new developments have cropped up in the farm tech and policy spheres.

  • AFBF inks more ‘right to repair’ agreements | Agri-Pulse
  • In rural America, right-to-repair laws are the leading edge of a pushback against growing corporate power | The Daily Yonder
  • ICYMI: House Ag GOP members speak against Biden EPA’s burdensome WOTUS Rule | House Committee on Agriculture
  • Statement by Secretary Vilsack on the president’s fiscal year 2024 budget | USDA
  • 400-plus groups on farm bill budgets and pesticide bills | DTN Progressive Farmer
  • How the long shadow of racism at USDA impacts Black farmers in Arkansas—and beyond | Civil Eats
  • State legislatures are cracking down on foreign land ownership | Mother Jones
  • Sound Agriculture launches on-demand-bred tomato | The Scoop

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Wegmans announced a host of new in-store accessibility aids for visually or hearing-impaired shoppers. The services incorporate a broad range of technology from American Sign Language-based video remote services to apps for real-time assistance to large print prescription labels and documentation. The efforts also extend to enhance the customer service experience on its website.

Worth Reading

Corned Bass?

When St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, the food side of Lenten observance can get tricky. Food & Wine investigated the implications: “Many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent … Whether or not Catholics can get a one-day pass to help themselves to some traditional St. Paddy’s Day food depends a lot on where they live.” We get that corned beef is a conflict … but kegs and eggs should be safe, right?

Panic in Anaheim

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank coincided with Expo West, a large food-industry trade show showcasing the products of countless startups. Food Dive’s Megan Poinski captured the scene among exhibitors a week ago when the news first broke. “I think the word is panic,” said Monica Bhatia, CEO and founder of Equii, a high-protein flour brand used in CPG products. “We were panicking. We saw some other founders who were panicking as well, for the right reasons.”

Jarring Innovation

A company based in Dayton, Ohio, claims to have implemented “the first jar lid innovation in nearly eight decades” — a venting mechanism that makes it easier to open lids with the push of a button (Dayton Daily News). The EEASY lid is on its way to 250 stores in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania atop Guglielmo’s Sauce products.

Plant-based Trifecta

The Kroger Co. and the Plant Based Foods Association commissioned research to identify consumer reasons behind the decline in sales of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. A Food Business News article titled “Taste, texture and quality are ‘unmet needs’ in plant-based alternatives,” summarized the situation with the category. The research listed “clean label” as an additional pain point. And those insights came from surveying the “top 50% spenders” in the niche …