As outbreaks of COVID-19 begin to slow, food industry leaders are looking to the future.

  • Channels reevaluating as states reopen
  • Farmers recovering with taxpayer help

“The crisis also enticed foodservice distributors, including major firms like Sysco and U.S. Foods, into retail distribution, perhaps for the long term. … Given the growing blur between the channels, a presence on both sides of the food market may benefit distributors and their customers.”

Mike Buzalka, executive features editor, Food Management

Reopen Sesame

As states continue to relax restrictions, influential figures from across the food industry weighed in on how businesses will change in the coming weeks and months. A patchwork of conflicting state standards means that there are nearly as many approaches to reopening as there are restaurants and retailers adjusting their plans.

  • On May 18, the CDC offered recommendations for restaurants and bars as they reopen dining rooms.
  • The Counter’s Sam Bloch dove into how cities are adjusting policies to allow more low-risk outdoor seating.
  • Eater compiled “creative” social distancing solutions from 16 restaurants.
  • The Washington Post cited cell phone location data that revealed hundreds of thousands of people crossing state borders for access to restaurants. Common destinations? Wisconsin, Maryland and Virginia.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News highlighted workforce management issues that are likely to crop up.
  • Supermarket News reported that grocers are expanding hours as more people resume normal working hours.
  • Walmart CEO John Furner told The Wall Street Journal that he expects some shift in grocery purchases to become permanent, including increased online purchases.
  • In a Reuters piece describing how national restaurant chains are looking to fill in where independent restaurants close, business analyst Kevin McCarthy called the trend “corporate Darwinism on steroids.”

Minding the Gaps

The USDA unveiled two new relief efforts to address gaps in America’s food system caused by the pandemic. Struggling farmers and ranchers will receive direct aid payments, while Americans in need of food assistance will gain access to government-subsidized food boxes. Influential voices reacted to both programs, discussing benefits and how the programs fall short.

  • The Associated Press captured Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and White House Advisor Ivanka Trump launching the Farmers to Families Food Box Program on May 15. The program directs $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat purchases for delivery to food banks and nonprofits.
  • Reuters investigated contracts awarded by the program after one inexperienced company turned to Facebook to source farmers, food banks and employees.
  • USDA outlined details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which directs $16 billion to farmers and ranchers who have experienced supply chain disruptions or suffered price declines of 5% or greater.
  • American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall welcomed CFAP: “This aid can’t arrive soon enough … it’s imperative … to hold on through this season and next to help put this country back on the road to recovery.”
  • Other organizations representing corn, wheat, milk and beef acknowledged that funding would not benefit all segments equally.
  • DTN ag policy editor Chris Clayton voiced his frustration with CFAP: “The guys that roll the dice get bailed out. … we are training people to let government protect risk.”

“If workers are considered assets, then the question is the extent to which companies are willing to invest in their health and safety. … make no mistake: In the here and now, COVID-19 requires decisions that test the industry’s moral foundation.”

Tom Johnston, managing editor, Meatingplace

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Wait … We Agree on (Food) Politics?

Academics from Purdue and Michigan State universities studied how opinions on food policy have changed among Republicans and Democrats between 2011 and 2018. In the abstract, posted on Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, the authors claim the parties “actually converged, with both major parties exhibiting a preference toward heightened government intervention.” That said, you have to pay $42 for the full report; let us know what you find out.

Not Watered Down

The World Economic Forum published its 14th annual report, “The Global Risks Landscape 2019,” which ranks major global threats by their impact and likelihood. Half of the top 10 threats deal with water management and could impact farming and food production; examples include extreme weather and ecosystem collapse. In another report, Farm Journal and two nonprofits sought to bridge the communications gap between sustainability communicators and farmers by polling 900 farmers on their water management practices.

Not My Problem

On May 15, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) introduced the Protecting Protein Production and Consumer Access Act, which “protects every Americans’ access to safe and affordable beef, pork and poultry” and would exempt meatpacking operations from many liabilities and “frivolous lawsuits” from sick workers. Consumers group Food Policy Action said the bill would protect “big meat,” not workers.

Thirsty Trends Reversed

A few interesting articles summed up boozy habits under quarantine. Eater declared the death of the “wellness” alcohol trend (think: CBD-infused drinks and alcohol-free “mocktails”) in favor of people stocking up on traditional alcohol, or having it delivered. Food Processing noted that Mexico’s beer supply was running dry as breweries south of the border are not considered essential. Wall Street Journals’ Jennifer Maloney explained how the coronavirus crisis has reversed the trend of falling sales for mainstream beers like Bud Light.

Tube Steak Electronica

Chuck-E-Cheese in disguise, hot dog electronica and increasing interest in yardbirds caught our eye for the off-beat this week.

  • AgAge reported that Chuck-E-Cheese has been using a “mouseless” pseudonym, Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings, to dupe homebound consumers into ordering pizzas.
  • Food & Wine’s Mike Pomranz shared an amazing video involving electronic music made from hot dogs, asking, “Has there ever been a better time to waste time revisiting the bizarre?”
  • Tamar Haspel from The Washington Post outlined tips for raising chickens at home, saying, “As the novel coronavirus pandemic drives more of us to take our food system into our own hands, a steady supply of eggs, coupled with a home-based, kid-friendly project, has a lot of appeal.”