“It’s hard to imagine Texans, much less most Americans, giving up their brisket or burgers any time soon, but if the rains don’t come, hard decisions will have to be made by consumers and producers alike.”

Kate Zerrenner, Triple Pundit

To Meat or Not to Meat

The ever-expanding world of meat substitutes got a little more crowded on August 29, when five of the most prominent cell-based protein companies came together to form the Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation, or AMPS Innovation. The new group’s mission statement declared that founding members BlueNalu, Finless Foods, Fork & Goode, JUST and Memphis Meats share a common goal of advancing innovation in the cell-based market and partnering with the broader agricultural community to “help meet the demands of feeding a growing global population.” This week also revealed many other meat alternative headlines:

  • On August 25, The Washington Post’s Laura Riley penned an up-to-date summary of the evolution in plant-based alternative proteins: from “the token offering to vegans at the backyard barbecue” to a major point of discussion throughout the food industry.
  • Nestlé publicized two changes to its Garden Gourmet brand’s plant-based lineup. The Incredible Burger it sells in Europe will be reformulated to be more “meatlike” and relaunched in the U.S. under the name “Awesome Burger.” Nestlé also introduced a new “cook from raw” product called Incredible Mince: a ground beef alternative.
  • On August 22, cell-based seafood company BlueNalu declared its commercialization strategy and schematics for large-scale production facilities, making itself the first cellular aquaculture company to do so. Food Dive commended the company for overcoming two of the main obstacles to developing cell based products: “Production costs and the media to grow cells.” BlueNalu’s press release cites progress in developing stable muscle cell lines from multiple types of fish.
  • The World Research Institute (WRI) provided behavioral science-based tips fast food restaurants can use to steer diners toward meatless options. The group encourages adoption of more plant-based menu items after WRI research showed “a widespread reduction in beef consumption is essential for keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C … and preventing the most dangerous climate impacts.”
  • On August 26, KFC announced it would test plant-based nuggets and boneless wings in partnership with Beyond Meat for one day, at one Atlanta location. Nation’s Restaurant News reported the new offering sold out in just five hours. A critic from Insider tried them and remarked, “The appearance was more impressive than the taste.”
  • Food Business News interviewed Owen Klein, vice president of global culinary innovation at CKE Restaurants (the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.), following news that Hardee’s plans to test two plant-based menu items with Beyond Meat in October.
  • 7-Eleven Canada introduced a new pizza that features Beyond Meat’s Italian Sausage Crumbles. According to the release, the company hopes to appeal to Canadians who are “shifting their food habits and attitudes towards more sustainable and humanitarian products.”

CSR Call and Response

Since 1997, the Business Roundtable (BRT), an association of leading U.S. CEOs, held that the “purpose of a corporation” is to provide financial returns for its shareholders, borrowing heavily from University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s 1970 Shareholder Theory. On August 19, BRT changed direction and widened the scope of corporate purpose to “an economy that serves all Americans,” not just shareholders.

BRT’s new direction corresponds with food industry CSR policies. We have noted that the 10 largest food companies across all sectors address employee relations, the environment, food safety, communities, and animal care (where appropriate). While The Washington Post, Forbes and others published summaries of the announcement with a generally positive review, many other influential sources offered more critical assessments.

  • The World Resources Institute called BRT’s Statement of Purpose “our grandmother’s corporate social responsibility policy. ” The group proposed three “critical additions,” including delivering sustainable products that help society, using corporate and political influence to support change and opportunity for all, and acknowledging Earth’s limited resources.
  • Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle counted seven food companies among the signers, and asked where Mars, Nestlé and Unilever were.
  • Fast Company documented how, in a full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times, the B Corporation movement called out BRT, suggesting, “Let’s work together to make real change happen.” B Corporation lists several food companies, including Danone, Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever) and Cabot Creamery among its members.
  • Harvard Law School noted BRT’s new purpose is “mainly symbolic” and co-signers are not held responsible by law.

Papayapocalypse

On August 26, FDA leaders Norman Sharpless, MD, and Frank Yiannas issued an official statement to the papaya industry, urging growers and processors to reassess operations at every step to protect consumers. The leaders recalled eight separate instances in which Salmonella outbreaks were linked to papaya imports, noting, “[Papaya] is most often eaten raw, without cooking or processing to eliminate microbial hazards … the way they are grown, harvested, packed, held, processed and distributed is crucial to minimizing the risk of contamination with human pathogens.”

  • The FDA statement addressed all sectors of the papaya industry, but the agency sent a separate warning letter to one importer in particular: Agroson’s LLC. The firm is accused of importing contaminated papayas in 2011, 2017, and 2019.
  • Food Safety News summarized Agroson’s response. The importer denied any wrongdoing and said the FDA’s evidence was “insufficient to establish a causal link to the outbreak.”
  • Western Growers interpreted the FDA’s papaya-specific statement as a reminder to the entire fresh produce industry. Senior Vice President of Science, Technology and Strategic Planning Hank Giclas put the onus on producers to “work to continually review and improve (our) practices, in concert with public health agencies and researchers.”

“The group’s diversity makes it uniquely powerful among previous efforts; it’s also a powder keg.”

Diane Ty, project director, Portion Balance Coalition

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Everything in Moderation

This week on August 25, Quartz journalist Chase Purdy challenged readers to rethink portion sizes when he profiled a newly formed special interest group, the Portion Balance Coalition, and identified some concerning statistics about the ballooning portions on American plates. The coalition is made up of companies from various sectors, often with competing interests, that have partnered to tackle obesity and chronic disease by changing the conversation around portion control. Purdy points out, “Between 1993 and 2013, the average bagel got 100% bigger.” He also laments how larger sizes are “marketed and sold as bargains.” Despite that fact that the participating companies, which include Nestlé, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the USDA, are “far from natural partners,” they can agree on one thing: Bigger is not always better.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine …

On August 26, a New York Times opinion piece from Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s nutrition school, and Dan Glickman, a former secretary of agriculture, asserted, “Poor diet is the leading cause of mortality in the United States.” The authors then suggested changes that the government, healthcare industry and private sector could make to address what they’re referring to as a “national nutrition crisis.” A dizzying figure from the Milken Institute illustrates the cost of said crisis: “The total economic cost of obesity is estimated at $1.72 trillion per year, or 9.3 percent of gross domestic product.” The authors say our poor diets negatively affect everything from health care costs and American business competitiveness to reduced military readiness.

… and Medicine Be Thy Food

On August 27, Food Business News summarized new NPD Group research that found consumers increasingly taking a “food as medicine approach” to dining. As a result, food and beverage companies are highlighting potential health benefits as a way to sway consumer perception and purchasing decisions. The rise of “superfoods” and other “medicinal foods” is a salient example. The article concedes that, while nutritious, the superfood label is “more useful for driving sales than describing healthfulness.” With new research estimating a quarter of U.S. adults trying to manage their health through food, it’s no wonder companies new and old have started to market to changing tastes.

No Nitrites?

Consumer Reports (CR) on August 29 published an article warning of the dangers of eating deli meats. The article summarizes CR research and advises, “Regularly eating even small amounts of cold cuts, including ‘uncured’ products, increases cancer and heart disease risk.” With support points from World Health Organization, the article rehashes the past five years’ findings that link eating meat processed with nitrites to cancer and heart disease. The research found similar levels of nitrates in chicken, ham, roast beef, turkey, and salami products made with “natural” nitrites like celery powder, and synthetic ones. NPR’s The Salt blog and Meatingplace both covered CR’s findings, with Meatingplace quoting the American Association of Meat Processors: “You can find the bad in anything; however moderation is always key.”