Supply and demand themes punctuated this week, according to the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture.

  • Workers: long-lasting effects of short supply
  • Crops: strong demand limited by fields running dry
  • Alternative protein: investments ramp up for future demand

‘Perennially Short-handed’

Perhaps the most profound consequence of the pandemic has been how people work. In food and beverage, a short supply of labor has led to frustration from both workers and management.

  • The Counter interviewed foodservice workers in North Carolina, reporting: “there’s no labor shortage. It’s a ‘wage shortage.'”
  • On July 13, a sign outside a Lincoln, Nebraska, Burger King read, “We all quit. Sorry for the inconvenience.” After gaining viral fame, workers told TODAY that working conditions and chronic understaffing prompted nine employees to quit within a day.
  • A Brewster, Massachusetts, restaurant shut down for a “day of kindness” after short-staffed workers dealt with particularly abusive diners (The New York Times).
  • On farms, finding labor has been difficult for many years. The Associated Press quoted a Pennsylvania farmer: “It feels like we’re perennially short-handed.”
  • In the hopes that foreign-born workers may fill the void, National Pork Producers Council launched a campaign, “Year-Round Pork Needs Year-Round Workers,” to update rules for seasonal worker visas.

No Props for Crops

The USDA released its June agricultural estimates while the ongoing drought kept much of the Western U.S. in its grip. Both topics prompted discussions about the 2021 crop outlook and its cascading effects on downstream food production.

  • On July 10, the USDA forecasted world crop supply and demand. While the yield forecasts for corn and soybeans remain stable, food producers are concerned about prices and yields for other crops like wheat and oats.
  • Due to the drought, the wheat crop in the northern Plains is on track to be the smallest in 33 years (Gizmodo). Reuters added: this “means tighter supplies of the variety used in bread and pizza dough, prized by millers for its quality and high protein content.”
  • The oat crop is in similar straits as “American farmers are now expected to harvest their smallest oats crop in records that go back to 1866” (Farm Policy News).
  • Successful Farming summarized how this reduced estimate drove up prices for most grains, and will ultimately contribute to food price inflation.
  • A Bloomberg article, reposted in Yahoo! Finance, outlined rising feed costs for dairy farmers, between drought and massive Chinese purchases of U.S. grains to feed its hog herd.
  • Food Ingredients First recapped research in the journal World Development that called soy cultivation in South America a “self-defeating” crop.
  • The Soil Society of America explored the “big potential” of little millet, a grain that was once an American staple. The article argued for little millet’s return given its nutritional benefits and agricultural yield.

Alternative Protein, Mainstream Coverage

Headlines piled up this week as discussions around plant-based and lab-grown meat alternatives abounded. Investment funding and product launches were key topics.

  • On July 13, Nestlé became the first major food producer to publicly communicate interest in cell-cultured meat by announcing a collaboration with Future Meat Technologies to “understand the potential of future meat alternatives.”
  • The next day, Food Ingredients First gauged the reaction from cell-cultured start-up leaders about Nestlé’s interest in entering the space.
  • Israel-based Aleph Farms raised $105 million to expand production before it launches cell-cultured beef globally.
  • Meati Foods, a company that hopes to be the first to produce “whole-muscle” alternative meat at scale, named some recent investors that include former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb and The Alinea Group (New Hope).
  • Bloomberg explored the market potential of lab-grown foie gras after France’s public bank and the European Commission supported a seed funding effort.
  • Panda Express announced a partnership with Beyond Meat, rolling out Beyond Chicken Tenders at 400 locations, along with a plant-based version of its signature dish, Orange Chicken (Food & Wine).
  • Little Caesars announced that its Planteroni Pizza will be the first to feature a plant-based pepperoni alternative.

“It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable … Plant and animal foods can be complementary, because they provide different nutrients.”

Stephan van Vliet, researcher, Duke University (Meatingplace)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Let the Competition Begin

On July 9, President Biden signed an executive order designed to boost competition in several industries. The Counter focused on noncompete clauses in the restaurant industry: “For non-unionized workers, the only source of economic leverage they have with respect to their employers is their implicit ability to quit their job and go find a better one.” The National Grocers Association welcomed the order’s effects on retail: “A diverse, competitive food retail marketplace benefits not only independent community grocers, but consumers, wholesalers, manufacturers, suppliers, and farmers.”

3 Billion Problems

The Intel Distillery has captured global hunger’s steep increase in attention relative to the pandemic, as well as the emergence of monitoring nutrition security along with food security. On July 12, Our World in Data compared the cost of healthy diets worldwide — which can cost more than four times more than simply “calorie-sufficient” diets — and determined that three billion people cannot afford to eat healthfully.

Is the Future in the Can?

Food Dive explored the fate of canned cocktails amid uncertain demand for portability post-pandemic. Author Asa Hiken brought this nuance to light: “If a consumer doesn’t know that a canned cocktail is made with real spirits whereas a hard seltzer is produced from fermented cane sugar or malted barley, they likely won’t be as willing to spend the extra money on the cocktail.”

Who Offsets the Carbon Offsets?

While the Growing Climate Solutions Act makes its way through Congress, Grist published a deep dive into carbon offset initiatives over the years and explained the difficulties that come with the practice. “Businesses will think they’ve zeroed out each additional ton of pollution they spew into the atmosphere, when in fact it’s unclear if anyone is actually balancing their emissions by removing more carbon from the air. It’s called the ‘additionality problem.’ And in the 30 years that people have been selling carbon offsets, no one has been able to solve it.”

The Spuds That Blew Up TikTok

Eating Well explained the “unorthodox” trend of boiling a whole bag of potatoes inside the netting they come in. TikTok user @threepointturner’s dumbfounded July 5 reaction accumulated more than 700,000 likes: “HAVE I BEEN COOKING POTATOES WRONG MY WHOLE LIFE?!” Author Leah Goggins made sure to forewarn anyone about to try this technique to watch out for pre-washed spuds and the potential for harmful chemicals to leach out of the plastic netting.