Three subjects captured the attention of most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture this week:

  • Beverages: from hard seltzer to sustainable coffee
  • Workers: safety, compensation and, in some cases, sourcing
  • Weather: persistent drought in the U.S.; other extremes globally

Weary Workforce

As the delta variant of COVID-19 revived fears of the pandemic’s spread, concerns about worker safety and compensation returned to the spotlight. On July 27, the CDC updated its guidelines to once again recommend that everyone wear masks indoors, including those who have been fully vaccinated.

  • The National Retail Federation called the situation “truly unfortunate” and encouraged vaccination to slow the pandemic’s spread.
  • Meanwhile, United Food and Commercial Workers argued that the CDC didn’t go far enough and called for a national mandate in place of a “confusing patchwork of state and local mask policies” that forces workers to “play vaccination police.”
  • Restaurateur Danny Meyer announced on July 29 that NYC-based Union Square Hospitality Group will require employees and diners to provide proof of vaccination (CNBC). Meyer commented, “I feel strong responsibility, on our part as business leaders, to take care of our team and our guests.”
  • In Politico, Alexander Nieves examined the effects of mandated “hazard pay” for retail workers in Long Beach, California. In short: Workers are demanding higher pay for the risks that come with “essential.”
  • New York Times writer Eduardo Porter explained that a tight labor market means more workers can demand higher wages.
  • Demanding higher wages and transparency for tips, DoorDash drivers plan to strike on July 31 (Vice). One driver told Vice, “With gas increases, it’s hard to make any money. Without tips we’re not making anything.”
  • In a July 26 report on the “Future of Work”, FMI (The Food Industry Association) and consulting firm Deloitte suggested, “Food industry companies should seek to humanize work” and focus on “achieving new, better outcomes.” Confusingly, automation may be a key part of “humanizing.”

Beverage Banter

Hot and cold, alcoholic and not: Talk of beverages conjured some interesting conversations.

  • From virtual wine tastings to carry-out cocktails to selling whole bottles, Nation’s Restaurant News explored strategies restaurant operators are using to retain profitable alcohol sales.
  • Looking for a 3,200-word rant on the state of beverage marketing? Vox associate editor ​​Melinda Fakuade provided just that in an interesting history of functional beverages: “Beverages have become just another way for people to signal allegiance to a certain lifestyle or to tell ourselves that we are working toward something better.”
  • Mintel shared new stats on sustainable coffee: “Nearly half (48%) of all new coffee product launches in 2020 carried an ethical or environmental claim, close to double the number from almost a decade ago (2012) when just one in four (25%) coffee launches were sustainable.”
  • Bloomberg summarized the waning trend of hard seltzer products, which is catching many manufacturers off guard. Earlier this month, Molson Coors discontinued its Coors Seltzer, though it will continue promoting its Vizzy and Topo Chico brands (Beverage Daily). Food Dive summarized the Boston Beer Company’s second-quarter earnings report, which fell short largely due to overestimating growth of its hard seltzer products. We have one word for you spiked seltzer marketers: Zima.

Rain Dance Redux

As the U.S. food supply continues to deal with challenges of extended drought and hot temperatures, the effects are mounting. Globally, the world faces even more extreme weather, from flooding to frost.

  • This week, U.S. Drought Monitor reported some “drought-easing rainfall” in the Southwest and “another round of blistering heat across the northern Plains further stressed rangeland, pastures and a variety of summery crops.”
  • The Washington Post warned consumers will pay more for tomatoes due to a combination of drought and pandemic-reduced inventory.
  • The Daily Scoop reported on the swarms of grasshoppers thriving in the dry conditions in Montana and devastating wheat fields.
  • The National Farmers Union welcomed an $8.5 billion disaster relief bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives designed to aid farmers impacted by extreme weather.
  • Effects are also being felt in the fishing industry, as The Associated Press echoed concerns shared by Pacific Northwest fishermen who are seeing the salmon population threatened: “A crash in one year’s class of young salmon can have lasting effects on the total population and shorten or stop the fishing season.”
  • From frost in Brazil to flooding in China, Bloomberg said, “Extreme weather is slamming crops across the globe, bringing with it the threat of further food inflation at a time costs are already hovering near the highest in a decade and hunger is on the rise.”

“Things that are happening in one part of the world end up impacting all of us. [What] we’ve underestimated as a world is just how frequently weather would start to have serious impacts.”

Agnes Kalibata, United Nations special envoy, 2021 Food Systems Summit (Bloomberg)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Bad Boyz

Sometimes influential figures use their power unscrupulously. On July 23, Grub Street shared the details of Mario Batali’s company’s $600,000 settlement concerning a sexual harassment investigation started in 2019. And, on July 26, The New York Times published a profile characterizing osteopathic physician and online natural health proponent Joseph Mercola as the “most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online.” Researchers, regulators and journalists criticized Mercola for profiting from promoting misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccines. Want to blame someone for returning to wearing masks? Here’s a start.

‘Diverse Actors’

The United Nations will kick off its Food System Summit in September “by bringing together diverse actors from around the world to leverage the power of food systems to deliver progress on all 17 [sustainable development goals] and our shared vision for people, planet, and prosperity.” The pre-summit was this week in Rome, and Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle collected all the important links for registration, information and counter-events.

TLDR: Cool Charts!

Following up on President Biden’s July 9 executive order that encourages competition in many sectors, The Guardian and activist group Food & Water Watch teamed up on an investigation of consolidation in food production. We were drawn to the good data visualization as a quick, category-by-category read of important players in food production.

Dino Bite

We could not pass on this, based on the headline alone: “We Live in a Golden Age of Dinosaur Chicken Nuggets.” The Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Byron explored the boom for dinosaur chicken nuggets, which has exploded into a $1.1 billion category. Manufacturing expertise at big players like Tyson and Perdue have led the way for other fun-shaped food products like Farm Rich’s Mandalorian-inspired cheesy potato tots and even a decent market for dino-chicken-nugget earrings. Yes, earrings. No, not recommended for dog owners.