Pressing and popular topics remained strong, as influential voices convened online:

  • Alternative proteins innovate and captivate.
  • Vaccinations inoculate and spark debate.
  • Food production leaders evaluate and initiate.

“Very large meat companies are definitely sprinkling investment dollars into [the alternative protein] space … They see themselves as being ‘protein’ companies.”

Author Chase Purdy, interview in Meatingplace

Steaks Are High, Prices Lower

If predictions about 2021 being a turning point for food technology are true, expect to see even more developments in the alternative meat and dairy market in the months ahead. Startups and established food makers alike are making their mark.

  • Meatingplace’s Peter Thomas Ricci interviewed Chase Purdy, a former Politico and Quartz journalist and Billion Dollar Burger author who currently focuses his attention on cell-cultured meat. As production picks up, Purdy discussed the potential for an industry less consolidated than conventional meat production.
  • Agri-Pulse explored sales data and consumer preferences behind the surging demand for plant-based foods.
  • Aleph Farms unveiled the first 3D bioprinted rib-eye steak, which uses live animal tissue and opens up cell-cultured technology to whole-muscle cuts that mimic meat (The Washington Post).
  • Bloomberg interviewed Impossible Foods President Dennis Woodside on the company’s decision to cut prices by 20%, which he reports was driven largely by efficiencies of scale.
  • While Oatly sung its own praises during Super Bowl LIV, Food Dive speculated the company is seeking a $10 billion valuation for an IPO.
  • New Hope asked NotMilk founder Matías Muchnick about the brand’s U.S. launch and its proprietary intelligence and algorithms that make it the only plant-based milk alternative to replicate “the taste and texture of cow’s milk, so you can cook, bake and froth it just as you would its nonvegan counterpart.”
  • Food Processing reported on achievements by Future Meat Technologies to reduce the price of a 4-ounce serving of cultured chicken breast to $7.50. “Cultured meat technology is the Apollo program of the 21st century,” said Professor Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientific officer. Impressive? Yes. Rocket science? We think not.

Workers’ Shot

Leaders from across the food industry encouraged workers to get COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. This has been easier for some than others, due to state-run distribution.

  • A week after New York City promised to prioritize restaurant workers, Grub Street reported on February 10 that few had been able to secure vaccine doses.
  • Kroger offered workers $100 to get vaccinated, but the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union criticized the grocer for closing two stores when local governments required hazard pay for day-to-day risks faced during the pandemic.
  • Meat processors, such as Foster Farms and Tyson Foods, began offering vaccinations onsite or at nearby hospitals as early as February 2. However, The Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Bunge noted that some workers doubt the vaccine’s effectiveness.
  • In a video that seeks to reassure workers, Sanderson Farms President and COO Lampkin Butts urged: “Help my family and yours to work toward a future full of life we all enjoy by getting your COVID-19 vaccine today.”
  • The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that farm worker vaccinations also are impeded by language barriers.

Overheard at the Global Food Forum

On February 9, members of Bader Rutter’s food & beverage practice attended The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum, which was online-only due to the pandemic. Leaders from across agriculture, food manufacturing and distribution channels engaged in informative and provocative conversations to better understand the situation food production is in today. Anthony Pratt of Pratt Industries, a UK-based packaging company, encapsulated many of the perspectives brought to life during the conference: “Disruption and opportunity are two sides of the same coin.” We identified four recurring themes:

  • Technology and innovation will help solve our biggest food issues. Paul Fribourg of investment group Continental Grain explained how the pandemic accelerated technological advancements, and fast-reacting companies would emerge as the winners. Bayer Crop Science President Liam Condon explained how COVID-19 has inspired a more resilient food system: “We can have health for all and hunger for none in our generation.” Sylvia Wulf of AquaBounty Technologies shared the optimism: “Science can solve many of our global challenges.”
  • Room for food system improvements exists on diverse fronts. Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists lamented that the U.S. has several contradictory policies that battle one another and are ultimately harmful to national health. Illinois grain farmer Megan Dwyer pointed out that infrastructure such as improving riverways would be key to improving crop exports.
  • The industry is generally optimistic about the Biden administration. Trade and regulation weighed heavily when it came to conversations about the new administration’s policies. Topping agendas were topics like a desire to maintain federal support for corn-based fuel additive ethanol, keeping up with China’s demand for food and feed, and bettering policies to enhance human health. While the government has much to do to address the pandemic, investor Ellie Rubenstein asked what can be done to cure the “slow pandemic [of obesity, hypertension and cardiac disease] of the past 30 years.”
  • Worldwide environmental stewardship remains top-of-mind throughout food production. EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski stressed the importance of global cooperation and shared optimism about Biden administration priorities in this area, while also promoting stewardship achievements in European agriculture. Attorney Sam Abramson countered, “If governments in Europe are serious about mitigating climate change, they need to adopt gene editing technology in agriculture.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Deeper Than Weight vs. Volume

Los Angeles Times cooking columnist Ben Mims attempted to get to the bottom of the old question about what a cup of flour weighs. With the pandemic-fueled home-baking renaissance, there’s some useful information about the idiosyncrasies between Cook’s Illustrated, Bon Appétit and other cooking resources.

Sustainability Starts With Coffee

Nestlé made headlines by announcing progress toward its “Net Zero by 2050” initiative. Food Ingredients First summarized the Swiss food giant’s top priorities for soil, climate-friendly milk and sustainable crop sourcing in Europe, Middle East and North Africa. “Our projects on healthy soils, low-emission dairy farms, and sustainably sourced cocoa and coffee show promising outcomes,” said Nestlé’s regional CEO, Marco Settembri.

Another Unlikely Alliance

Contributing to the ongoing trend of partnerships with purpose, poultry producer Bell & Evans teamed up with Cargill and the Rodale Institute to transition 50,000 acres of corn and soybeans to organic production. Civil Eats’ Lisa Held covered the news on February 9, adding that this alliance will fill a big gap in organic cropland, which has not kept pace with demand and contends with a robust counterfeit market.

Modern Day Slimehead

They’re known for clocking boaters in the face as they jump out of the waters they were never invited to. The Asian carp, an invasive species threatening the Great Lakes ecosystem, is undergoing a rebranding similar to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service campaign in the 1970s to rename the slimehead, an under-consumed fish, to “orange roughy.” USA Today reported the new name will be revealed at the Boston Seafood Show in mid-July.

Officially Retired

Seven months after announcing retiring the Aunt Jemima brand due to its offensive and racist association, Quaker Oats (a PepsiCo company) revealed the replacement on February 10: the Pearl Milling Company. NPR reported on the announcement, and linked to a 1980 (!) All Things Considered broadcast that called Aunt Jemima “a negative American myth.”

Nothing Says ‘Love’ Like a Lobster Bouquet

It may not smell like a dozen roses, but we’re pretty certain it will be tasty: a lobster bouquet. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is selling its Maine Lobster Tail Bouquet, featuring six frozen lobster tails in a festive arrangement. The company wrote, “With more people at home this Valentine’s Day, we wanted to create something unique that gave consumers a new way to think about and eat Maine Lobster.”