Uncertainty prevails after Hurricane Ian ripped across the southeastern U.S. last week. The storm’s timing reinforced the ongoing trend of the weather being the biggest story in The Intel Distillery’s rankings almost every third quarter over the past 10 years. In addition, we follow the money in some key categories while the U.S. high court takes on a few landmark cases relevant to agriculture.

  • Hurricane Ian tore through Florida farmland.
  • Brands invested in water and breakfast, not meat alternatives.
  • The Supreme Court’s fall docket addressed agriculture.

“There is no greater motivation for getting your crop harvested than a hurricane.”

Kevin Matthews, farmer in North Carolina (Successful Farming)

Incalculable Ian

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on September 28, leaving a path of destruction across the state. Just two days later, Ian hit South Carolina and worked its way inland. While the full extent of damage across the Southeast is still being calculated, Florida garnered the most attention.

  • Nation’s Restaurant News verified Hurricane Ian’s severity with the unofficial Waffle House Index, finding that 40 stores closed in Florida. The outlet also addressed how other restaurant chains are recovering from storm damage and power outages.
  • Politico reported that Ian affected the bulk of Florida’s citrus groves, with as many as 400,000 acres — of 450,000 in the state — facing losses.
  • On Monday, Fresh Fruit Portal clarified that most orange trees still stood, but farms saw as much as 80% of this year’s crop drop prematurely.
  • The storm also interrupted planting for a variety of other fruits and vegetables, Bloomberg noted. Also at risk: 400,000 bee colonies.
  • Farms in the Carolinas seemed to fare better, but AgFax tracked some cotton crop losses.
  • Relief efforts flowed in from many angles, including the USDA, Publix, Walmart, meat processors, Campbell’s, World Central Kitchen and local volunteers.

Going With the Flow

Breakfast is up, fake meat continues to lose steam and home grocery delivery is going high-tech. Here are some of the most interesting business developments as we follow the flow of money to catch the trends:

  • Progressive Grocer covered Walmart’s first cutting-edge million-square-foot fulfillment center that opened in the Chicago area: “These four next-gen fulfillment centers, once operational, will be able to provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping.”
  • Reuters’ Tom Polansek reported on JBS ceasing operations of its Planterra alternative meat business. The article quoted Gary Stibel of the New England Consulting Group: “Eventually it will be a good business for a few players. Today, it is a sinkhole for many folks that are throwing good money after bad, chasing too little demand with way too much supply.”
  • NPD Group’s latest report indicated increased breakfast traffic in foodservice: “Breakfast at restaurants was adversely affected in the early stages of the pandemic, and it’s recovering now that more consumers have returned to more out-of-the-home routines.”
  • Wall Street Journal reporter Spencer Jakab described how breakfast is the “final frontier” for quick-service restaurants and how chains like Wendy’s are trying hard to get a piece of the proverbial pancake.
  • Liquid Death, a canned water brand, was recently valued at $700 million after an additional round of funding. Bloomberg concluded, “Sometimes water tastes better when it’s in a cool-looking can.”

Highest Court of the Land. And Water.

The Supreme Court of the United States opened its fall session on October 3 with what TIME called a “blockbuster” term. Two ag-relevant cases are on the docket: addressing waterway management and state animal care regulation.

  • Sackett v. EPA: This case was prompted by an Idaho couple who wanted to fill in wetlands to build a home. The permitting process was stymied by the Clean Water Act (CWA) which protects certain wetlands as tributaries to navigable waters.
  • Over the past decade, the Obama, Trump and now Biden administrations have tried to define what the CWA regulates. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case will potentially shape EPA’s rule-making, implementation, and breadth of its authority under the act. E&E News summarized this week’s oral arguments as the nation’s agricultural community listened closely.
  • Ross v. NPPC: The National Pork Producers Council is fighting California’s Proposition 12, which would require producers outside the state to change how they raise hogs in order to sell pork in California. The case will be argued before the high court on October 11.
  • The case revolves around the constitutionality of a 2018 California referendum that could potentially disrupt pork production nationwide. The Hill explained, “The problem is that California imports 99.87% of its pork — virtually none is raised in the state. Anyone caught selling ‘illegal bacon’ in California will be subject to a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in state prison. Because the California market is huge, pork producers in other states must alter their feedlots and pens to meet the California rules. Otherwise, California retailers won’t risk selling illegal ham sandwiches.”

Worth Reading

Brand Disloyalty

Food Business News shared the results of a Morning Consult study that members of Gen Z view brands less favorably. While the study was broader than food, about half of the brands in the top 40 were food brands — M&M, Doritos, KitKat and Oreo are all in the top 10.

Foodie Towns for the Thrifty

What’s the best foodie city in America? Depends on how you count, according to WalletHub, which issued a comprehensive ranking of U.S. cities. “To determine the best and cheapest foodie scenes, WalletHub compared more than 180 U.S. cities across 29 key indicators of foodie-friendliness. Our data set ranges from cost of groceries to affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants to food festivals per capita.” Admittedly, we struggle to reconcile the domination of coastal cities in the rankings with “cheap.”

Mmmm Forbidden Doughnut

Bon Appétit brought attention to an MIT study that inadvertently found a set of neurons that specifically fire in response to images of food. Article author Ali Francis quipped, “Maybe we were born with this shortcut to visually identify crispy french fries, drippy soft serve, and honking burgers as foods. Or maybe our brains have developed in step with #foodie culture.” For what it’s worth, MIT intentionally studied the health effects of “food porn” consumption back in 2016.

Memories of Bygone Meals

Scientists from Lancaster University pursued “technology that can help re-construct memories using the flavour and scent of different foods in very compact shapes.” While the “3D printed flavour-based cues” don’t exactly sound like food, the tech helped elderly subjects recall food memories in a way that has promising applications for Alzheimer’s disease. We imagine bacon and apple pie top the list.