It was a big week for big voices, big progress against the pandemic and big deals in delivery:

  • Biden picks Tom Vilsack for USDA.
  • Major development moves COVID-19 vaccine closer to reality.
  • DoorDash raises the volume on the delivery discussion.

“Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that we have experienced leaders who can hit the ground running to ensure that there is a seamless transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration.”

Tom Stenzel, CEO, United Fresh Produce Association (Winsight)

Vilsack Is Back

On December 10, the Biden-Harris transition team selected Tom Vilsack to head up the USDA. The secretary of agriculture is often the most influential position for food production due to the breadth of USDA’s policy reach: from farm subsidies and rural development to meat inspection and hunger relief programs. This will be Vilsack’s second round in the role; he served eight years during the Obama administration.

  • Farm Journal highlighted Vilsack’s previous experience as a consensus-builder, citing support from a variety of agricultural industry groups.
  • Activist groups, such as Food and Water Watch, rebuffed Vilsack as an “agribusiness lobbyist” due to his tenure at the U.S. Dairy Export Council over the past four years.
  • Politico writers noted that the nomination upset groups that advocated for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as a diverse voice and champion of anti-hunger policies.
  • Food Safety News editor Dan Flynn worried that Vilsack will sideline food safety policies.
  • National Grocers Association CEO Greg Ferrera commented to Winsight Grocery Business: “Mr. Vilsack was a fierce champion for fighting food insecurity throughout his eight-year tenure as USDA secretary.”

A Shot in the Arm

Late Thursday, an FDA advisory committee paved the way for emergency authorization of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. In the days and weeks leading up to this decision, the food industry anticipated how to help.

  • Reuters tweeted that vaccine shipments will take priority over Santa’s deliveries.
  • United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on the CDC to prioritize the 1.3 million workers in grocery, meat packing and food processing for early access to the vaccine.
  • The world’s largest pork processor, Smithfield Foods, said it is “ready and willing to assist health agencies should storage capacity become constrained,” by utilizing its cold storage facilities to store the Pfizer vaccine (Reuters).
  • Forbes indicated that demand for dry ice to ship the new vaccine could strain other industries — such as meal kits — that rely on it.
  • Following CDC’s announcement to prioritize health care workers and residents in assisted-care facilities, North American Meat Institute President Julie Anna Potts pleaded: “The men and women of the meat and poultry industry help keep America’s grocery stores stocked and our farm economy working. They should be highly prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination.”
  • If vaccine rollout in the United Kingdom is any indication, meat industry workers will likely have to wait their turn (Farming UK).

Dashing Expectations

Both new and established companies continued to compete for online and delivery dollars, stimulating lively conversations on the subject.

  • DoorDash’s December 9 IPO captured many headlines as the company ended its first trading day valued just under $72 billion. The Wall Street Journal noted the meal delivery company’s market capitalization value is more than Denny’s, Dine Brands (Applebee’s, IHop), Outback, Dunkin’, Domino’s and Chipotle combined.
  • Restaurant Business reporter Joe Guszkowski suggested, “The response indicates intense demand from investors who are bullish on the company’s prospects amid a year of massive growth for delivery.”
  • DoorDash tweeted some (kind of awkward) Zoom NYSE bell-ringing footage: “We’re proud to take the next step toward our mission of growing and empowering local economies.” But commenters criticized the company for low wages and a poor tipping policy.
  • In Chicago, DoorDash caught more flak for adding a $1.50 “Chicago fee” to all bills as a means to recoup money lost from a 15% fee cap the city placed on all orders from all third-party delivery services (Eater).
  • Starting December 8, GrubHub offered a direct order toolkit allowing restaurant operators to avoid GrubHub commissions and fees to make up for “uncertain and challenging times this winter.”
  • In grocery, online sales remain strong, as Supermarket News reported that consumers spent more than $8 billion on groceries from services like InstaCart, Amazon Fresh and Shipt in November.
  • The Counter also reported on the online grocery surge, but noted that online shoppers using SNAP (food stamps) benefits have more limited choices.
  • eMarketer’s annual rankings indicated that Kroger’s investments in online grocery pushed it into the top ten online retailers, just ahead of Costco. Amazon dwarfs them all: at more than $300 billion in online sales, it is larger than the second through tenth ranked competitors combined.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

The Other Fake Meat

Did you know the UK has a The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU)? Well, the agency was established in 2015 after a 2013 horse meat incident in the UK and is tasked with “protecting consumers and the food industry from food crime within food supply chains.” Food Safety News shared the NCFU’s latest report, which indicated concerns about counterfeit meat and alcohol.

Greenbacks for Green Policy

Reuters reporters Karl Plume and Rod Nickel summarized consumer influences and industry incentives spurring farmers to reduce resource consumption. The article cites examples such as PepsiCo paying farmers a $10-per-acre premium for planting cover crops over the winter, and a partnership between Indigo Ag and Anheuser-Busch Inbev, which seeks to source a much more efficient rice used for brewing beer, both of which help these brands meet their sustainability goals.

Andrés Finds Fault

In The New York Times, Chef José Andrés shared sentiments on the American food industry amid a pandemic and the country’s need for a government official to lead food policy. “The weaknesses of our national food policies were obvious to experts well before we knew about COVID-19. The pandemic has exposed these failures to the rest of the world,” Andrés says.

Col. Seduction

Here’s an unexpected holiday movie to add to your watchlist this year: A Recipe for Seduction. The Lifetime original mini-movie stars Mario Lopez as KFC’s Colonel Sanders with “a secret recipe that is going to change the world.” AdAge’s Jessica Wohl interviewed Andrea Zahumensky, U.S. chief marketing officer for KFC who shared, “Both Lifetime and KFC are absolute staples during the holidays so we knew we just had to do this.”

Sour on Sweets

In an interview at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO forum, Tesla head Elon Musk bemoaned the state of candy bar innovation, “When was the last time there was some good candy?” It’s not the first time: Musk tweeted in 2018 that he was “super super serious” about starting a candy company.