“I see it all the time that households have one person who sniffs and another one who tosses. The sniffers should win out.”

JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate at Natural Resources Defense Council (The Wall Street Journal)

Some Love for Laborers

Noting the recent Labor Day weekend, many influential voices used their platforms to amplify workers’ contributions to our food system and highlight their struggles — past and present.

  • Meat+Poultry reported on a class-action lawsuit filed by three poultry processing plant workers who allege 18 major poultry processors conspired to fix and depress wages paid to hundreds of thousands of workers across 200 different plants. The lawsuit accuses the employers of attending “off-the-books” meetings where they “exchanged information about, discussed, agreed upon and ultimately fixed the wages and benefits of class members at artificially depressed levels.”
  • Meatingplace editor Lisa Keefe suggested that, given the commonality of these types of wage abuses, we should expect “a wave of lawsuits around the issue of compensation in the coming years.”
  • The Wall Street Journal noted that the Labor Department took steps toward completing a rule that would expand the eligibility requirements for overtime pay. If passed, the rule would increase “the annual salary threshold that generally determines who qualifies for time-and-a-half overtime pay.” A similar rule was proposed in 2016, but never went into effect due to employer concerns that the salary threshold set was too high. This time, the Labor Department says it is aware of these concerns and has requested feedback to help determine more agreeable salary levels.
  • Civil Eats featured insights from a panel of workers’ rights advocates who spoke on the many ways they’ve seen the food and farming labor industry change over the last decade.
  • The New Food Economy dedicated an entry in its “Hands that Feed Us” series to the Central American migrant workers who have helped transform the U.S. labor movement.
  • The New York Times examined on-demand staffing apps that some restaurants have started to use. The apps help managers cope with labor shortages by tapping into the gig economy.

Waste Not

Food waste drew substantial attention in the past two weeks due to coordinated efforts to better understand and reduce food waste across all sectors of food and beverage production.

  • On August 28, World Resources Institute published a 130-page “global action agenda” with the goal of halving food loss and waste by 2030. The group also offered a more manageable 10-step guide (only four pages!).
  • The previous week, Natural Resources Defense Council released analysis of food waste data obtained from Bon Appetit Management Company. The group found that all-you-can-eat service increases waste by up to 40%. Surprisingly, they also found “plate size, the availability of trays, and self-service versus staff-portioned items did not significantly influence the amount of edible plate waste one way or the other.”
  • The Wall Street Journal highlighted the benefits of streamlining “use by,” “expires on,” and “best by” labeling on food products. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced bills to do so.
  • Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation named seven recipients of its $1 million Innovation Fund, with the hopes of “reducing food waste by up to 7.2 million pounds.”
  • ReFED announced 10 nonprofit organizations that will join its own Food Recovery Accelerator, underwritten by The Walmart Foundation.

Big Brands Enter Burger Battle

The plant-based burger battle raged on this week, with three new entries into the niche. Meanwhile, the plant-based trend inspired investments into other protein categories.

  • Kroger declared its intention to produce private-label plant-based burgers for lower prices than the current flagships (The Wall Street Journal).
  • Hormel Foods launched a “plant-forward meat alternative” brand, Happy Little Plants.
  • Tyson Foods invested in plant-based shellfish startup New Wave Foods.
  • Meatingplace reported on September 6 that Hershey-owned Krave Jerky will roll out jerky products made from peas and fava beans.
  • Vegetarian food manufacturer MorningStar Farms, owned by Kellogg’s, announced a new brand of vegan burger products: Incogmeato. Hopefully, this brand won’t track our cookies.