While there weren’t any earth-shattering developments in food, beverage or agriculture this week, the influential voices we follow still found plenty to talk about.

  • Academics studied the impact of ultra-processed diets.
  • Food business analysts assessed market trends.

“We’re beginning to think this is the new normal, that there’s always going to be a gap today compared to the staffing in restaurants in the past. And so it is incumbent upon us to think about long-term solutions to make our team members … more efficient if in fact restaurants will be operating with fewer team members going forward.”

John Peyton, Dine Brands CEO (Nation’s Restaurant News)

The Scientific Ultra-process

A smattering of recently released studies addressed the health impacts of processed foods and beverages, as well as the effectiveness of policies to reduce their consumption.

  • Tufts University researchers found that men who ate ultra-processed foods had a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Curiously, the link did not hold true for women: “Foods like yogurt can potentially counteract the harmful impacts of other types of ultra-processed foods in women.”
  • Italian researchers linked ultra-processed foods — regardless of ingredient sources — to cardiovascular and all-cause mortality (The BMJ). Alt-Meat magazine called the study “a blow to plant-based foods.”
  • The BMJ, which published both studies, also ran an editorial that attributed the prevalence of such foods to their “convenient … affordable … and hyper-palatable” formulations. Kinda hard to argue with “hyper-palatable” foods.
  • Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel tweeted a CNN article that covered U.S. snacking habits, adding: “Yes! Ultra-processed food is the root of obesity & attendant diseases. But it’s NOT the additives. NOT the carbs. NOT the seed oils. It’s because it’s SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to get you to overeat.” We stand corrected.
  • Since 2014, six U.S. cities have adopted taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to combat the affordability of ultra-processed beverages. However, a University of Georgia analysis concluded that Philadelphia’s 2017 tax resulted in higher sales of other sugar-sweetened foods (U.S. News).
  • While the other studies focused on non-communicable diseases, Food Navigator addressed the latest contagion: monkeypox. So far, the results are inconclusive. Monkeypox has not been shown to be transmitted through food, but the French food agency ANSES says the possibility “cannot be excluded.”

Omnichannel Is Omnipresent

One way to frame food industry trends is to follow the money. Between investments, category performance and merger deals, it’s clear that online marketplaces are the hot place to be.

  • AgFunder News analyzed the “cloud retail” space, where investments doubled to $4.8 billion in 2021. Ghost kitchens, grocery fulfillment and food delivery led the category, with automation playing a significant role.
  • Specialty Foods Association shared industry reports that online grocery orders grew by 1.8% in July, marking a return to growth after inflation concerns curbed sales in the spring.
  • Market research group IRI tracked flat or lower unit sales for 137 of 174 food and beverage categories during the year ending August 7. Analyst Joan Driggs attributed the downturn to consumers adapting to inflation (Food Business News).
  • On September 7, online produce retailer Misfits Market agreed to acquire rival Imperfect Foods. Both brands market their home-delivered produce as a way to reduce food waste.
  • Also on September 7, grocery delivery app Instacart purchased Rosie, an e-commerce platform for independent grocers. Supermarket News positioned the deal as a boon for the company’s upcoming Initial Public Offering (IPO).
  • In contrast, yogurt-maker Chobani withdrew its IPO plans, citing “current market conditions.” The Wall Street Journal noted that the brand had already delayed its IPO plans twice over the past year.
  • In a Nation’s Restaurant News interview, Dine Brands CEO John Peyton described adaptations needed for the Applebee’s and IHOP brands as off-premise sales grew from 10% to 25% of the business.

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

In 1997, Walmart launched its showcase sustainability program, the colorfully monikered Project Gigaton with the goal of cutting 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases from its supply chain by 2030. Now, five years in, the company’s latest ESG report showed it is ahead of schedule and already over halfway there. The initiative relies on engaging with suppliers; over 4,500 already have. Moving forward, the company sees the most promising reduction opportunities remaining in packaging, food transportation, waste and refrigeration.

Worth Reading

Minor Clarity

Confused about details on the White House Conference on Hunger and Health? Us too. It’s coming in a few weeks, and some key details — like who is invited, who is speaking and the agenda — are yet-to-be posted. Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle posted the latest information.

Centenarian Sense

Progressive Grocer’s Lynn Petrak profiled an outstanding Winn-Dixie worker: 102-year-old Romay Davis. While her age alone is remarkable, she’s a veritable fount of wisdom to boot. Her advice? “Love everyone — and do good.” But if that’s too simple: “if you are efficient and do what you had to do well … people will get along with you.”

It’s Electric!

Food Ingredients First covered an innovative utensil that Kirin Holdings and Meiji University developed to help consumers lower salt intake. The spoon induces “weak electric currents” to boost a food’s perceived saltiness by as much as 50%. Shocking development!

Corny Concoctions

Pining for the days when molecular gastronomy was haute cuisine? Anxious for season two of “Is It Cake?” Eater reports there’s a new trend in disguised food products. LA-based chefs and TikTok influencers alike are busy making ears of corn out of things that are definitely not corn. As writer Bettina Makalintal put it: “There’s something undeniably fun about food that looks like other food.”