October 21, 2022
Friday by Noon:
Megamerger on Aisle 2
Big business, big bacteria and the bounty of the sea led conversations among the influential voices in food production that we follow. And scroll on down to the “Worth Reading” section for some extremes on the healthiness spectrum.
- Kroger and Albertsons made plans to form a megamarket.
- USDA proposed a new framework addressing Salmonella in poultry.
- A healthy crop of interesting reads about seafood posted.
On October 14, Kroger, the second-largest grocer, announced plans to buy the fourth-largest grocer, Albertsons, for $24.6 billion. Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen stated, “This merger advances our commitment to build a more equitable and sustainable food system by expanding our footprint into new geographies.” But the sheer size of the merger — adding up to 11.8% of the grocery market — invited skepticism from many sources.
- Bloomberg wrote that, despite potential regulatory hurdles, the merger “is a huge score for the four Wall Street banks that put together the year’s fifth biggest deal.”
- Technomic Senior Principal David Henkes tweeted a map showing “complementary footprints” of the grocers’ locations.
- Business Insider framed the deal as a boon for expanding Kroger’s automation technologies.
- Because both Kroger and Albertsons employ unionized workers, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone warned, “UFCW will oppose any merger that threatens the jobs of America’s essential workers, union and non-union, and undermines our communities.”
- The National Grocers Association, which represents independent grocers, worried that the merger would “increase anticompetitive buyer power over grocery suppliers.”
- Senate antitrust panel ranking member Mike Lee (R-Utah) promised to “do everything in my power to ensure our antitrust laws are robustly enforced.”
- On October 21, the Wall Street Journal’s Jaewon Kang described the antitrust hurdles considering market share in certain regions, focusing on overlaps with big box retailers that sell groceries and other products.
- Former Whole Foods Vice President Errol Schweizer argued, “The grocery industry is far too concentrated and suppliers, employees and consumers would all benefit from disaggregating the grocery giants.”
Stuck on Salmonella
On October 14, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed a new framework to reduce poultry-based Salmonella infections. The release included a few astonishing facts: Salmonella causes 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year, 23% of which can be attributed to contaminated poultry. In total, foodborne Salmonella infections cause a $4.1 billion red mark on the economy.
- The new strategy has three primary components: Salmonella testing before flocks enter a processing plant, relocating some of the existing sampling procedures in plants, and implementing an enforceable final product standard. USDA will host a virtual public meeting on Nov. 3 to gather input on the proposed policy.
- Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase interviewed Sandra Eskin, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, who said that while contamination rates in raw poultry are down, infections have been “stubbornly stuck for the last 20 years.”
- Food Safety News quoted attorney Bill Marler, who was critical of the proposal’s depth, but pleased something is being done to address Salmonella: “This is the first public-facing document I’ve seen in more than 30 years that FSIS has put out there showing that they understand there is a problem.”
- In a release (and in very release-like language), Consumer Reports Food Policy Director Brian Ronholm quoted … himself: “It’s critical for the USDA to work expeditiously to adopt aggressive goals to sharply reduce Salmonella contamination and focus its efforts on the strains that pose the biggest threat to human health.”
- Maryn McKenna, a prominent advocate for reducing antibiotics in livestock, posted an article in Wired which examined the antibiotic resistance angle in fighting Salmonella.
- Not everyone was pleased with the proposed framework. Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, offered this criticism: “We support the need to develop science-based approaches that will impact public health, but this is being done backwards. The agency is formulating regulatory policies and drawing conclusions before gathering data, much less analyzing it. This isn’t science — it’s speculation.”
News From the Deep
In a change of pace, attention to seafood eclipsed conversations around land-based protein sources over the past two weeks.
- Progressive Grocer broke down IRI data on seafood sales, finding that the category declined by 10% since last September. Shelf-stable varieties saw 7.8% gains, while fresh seafood took the biggest hit.
- On October 10, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceled the 2022-23 snow crab season due to a crab population decline. NBC News reported that the combination of this cancellation and the second cancellation of red king crab season amounted to a “two-pronged disaster” for the Alaskan crab industry.
- CNN cited NOAA Fisheries Program Manager Michael Litzow, who attributed the 40% decline in mature male crabs to climate change and rising Arctic water temperatures.
- While acknowledging that overfishing has declined since the 2000s, The Pew Charitable Trusts suggested that Northeast Atlantic fisheries may face fish population declines if biodiversity is not maintained.
- The UK’s On The Hook campaign posted harsh criticism of the Marine Stewardship Council’s eco labeling: “The MSC continues to certify highly damaging industrial fishing practices, while remaining inaccessible to many small-scale developing world fisheries, and concerns about certified fisheries range from habitat damage and bycatch to human rights abuses.” Perishable News offered more details.
- Food Ingredients First described the intense opposition to Spanish fishery Nueva Pescanova’s plans to build the world’s first large-scale octopus farm off the coast of the Canary Islands. Activists cite fish depletion and environmental damage.
- And, in a bit of pop culture commentary, The Onion delivered perhaps the most memorable take: “It’s sad to think how many Red Lobster menu items could disappear in our lifetime.”
Hey, What’s Good This Week?
Retailer Aldi announced lower prices on dozens of top-selling products to help shoppers save money on groceries this holiday season. By cutting costs on everything from bacon to frozen ground beef to raw honey by as much as a dollar, the chain hopes to expand the impact of its Aldi Price Promise to be the low-cost leader during the busiest season of the year for grocery buying — in spite of ongoing inflation.
Struggling to Be Healthy
At a time when 1 in 6 Americans is obese and 10% of the U.S. population experienced food insecurity in 2020, the Netherlands-based Access to Nutrition Foundation ranked the 11 biggest food companies by their ability “to deliver healthy, affordable food and beverages enabling consumers to reach healthier diets and to prevent hunger.” Triple Pundit’s Leon Kaye offered some harsh criticism: “When it comes to nutrition, these 11 companies are more in the midst of a race to the bottom rather than doing their part to bolster public health here in the U.S.”
Medicine on the Menu
A Tufts University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that prescribing medically tailored meals could save $13.6 billion annually across roughly 6.3 million Americans with diet-related diseases. Food is Medicine Coalition Executive Director Alissa Wassung commented, “It is incredible to see this rigorous research validate the value proposition of medically tailored meals.” Can tailored meal plans help us to fit in tailored clothes again?
Curd-esy of Culver’s
As Midwestern stalwart Culver’s learned, you have to be careful what you joke about. After the chain published an April Fools’ Day joke of a burger-sized cheese curd on a bun, the petitions started pouring in. The Green Bay Press Gazette highlighted the menu item’s single-day success in 2021, and where to find one during the month of October. On second thought, the tailored meal plan can wait.
That’s the Way the Cookie Digitizes
Scientists from Osaka University have devised a novel way to provide package-free labeling information in food items: 3D printing. In Food Manufacturing, study author Yamato Miyatake explained, “We realized that the insides of edible objects such as cookies could be printed to contain patterns of empty spaces so that, when you shine a light from behind the cookie, a QR code becomes visible and can be read using a cellphone.”
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