A quick look at happenings in major segments of our industry this week:

  • Foodservice workers strike for racial equality and higher pay.
  • All major grocers now require face protection; Trader Joe’s is just Trader Joe’s.
  • Agriculture looks to the future for more relief and better weather.

Fairness in Foodservice

Demands for racial equality among foodservice workers and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic dominated conversations this week. Worker support for #StrikeForBlackLives sparked a nationwide movement hitting the heart of the foodservice industry, while restaurant owners struggle to keep their businesses open.

  • On July 20, more than 50 organizations united for a Black Lives Matter national day of action, striking against industries where Black workers are disproportionately represented, such as fast food restaurants.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News reported that advocacy group Fight For $15 targeted McDonald’s as part of the strike, calling on the company to increase wages and provide paid sick leave and access to healthcare.
  • United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) President Marc Perrone called out politicians and large companies for inaction on racial justice.
  • Meanwhile, restrictions on indoor dining are forcing more restaurants to close permanently, this on top of an estimated 15,000 independent restaurants that have already closed since March, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Restaurateur Danny Meyer ended his famous no-tipping policy due to financial uncertainty from the pandemic: “We’ve come to believe that it’s the inability to share tips that is the problem, not the tips themselves.” (Food & Wine)
  • Facing revenue losses chainwide, full-service restaurant T.G.I. Friday’s announced it will offer meal kits under its online Butcher Shop concept.

Retail Rucksacks, Masks and More

The coronavirus pandemic continues to influence retail grocery policy, most recently with worker and shopper protection in the form of masks. Also, the move away from plastic bags and racism in branding continues to generate discussion and change in the industry.

  • On July 10, the UFCW placed (PDF) a full-page ad in The New York Times advocating for face coverings in public places in all 50 states. Since then, most major food retailers have required masks. The New York Times kept an updated record.
  • Winn-Dixie made headlines by not requiring face coverings initially but reversed course this week. The Washington Post’s Laura Reilly explains the details of the change, which initially went against the National Retail Federation’s recommendations.
  • Citing feedback on the “appropriateness” of its ethnic food brands, such as Trader Ming’s, Trader Joe’s announced it updated more than 90% of products to just “Trader Joe’s.” The San Francisco Chronicle pointed to a high schooler’s Change.org petition that brought attention to Trader Joe’s.
  • Food & Wine’s Mike Pomeranz reported on the formation of the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, a partnership between CVS Health, Target, Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens that has committed more than $15 million to research plastic bag alternatives.
  • On July 23, Supermarket News summarized findings that, while consumers are shopping less often, they’re spending more at each trip to the grocery store.

The Farm Front

As it became more apparent that COVID-19 will be with us for the long haul, agriculturalists turned their attention to preparing for the future.

  • Farm Journal promoted its virtual Field Days event as a way to share experiences and learn new approaches to coping with coronavirus complications.
  • PBS FRONTLINE published a video on July 21 documenting struggles for immigrant farm and meat processing workers.
  • Industry groups that represent a range of agricultural products — from wheat and ethanol to pork and beef — requested relief funds from Congress.
  • Meanwhile, the World Resources Institute suggested that existing farm subsidies should be reformed to incentivize sustainable practices.
  • Modern Farmer reported that drought conditions reached the worst level since 2012, potentially dampening outlook for many crops. U.S. Drought Monitor mapped the impact.

“We are entering the golden age of single-serve. I think we’re going to have a long, slow decline of buffets and so on.”

Nancy Kruse, Menu analyst (Food Business News)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Flat Iron Adventure

The Hustle posted 2,000+ words on the 2001 “discovery” of the flat iron steak. The piece chronicles University of Nebraska meat science professor Chris Calkins’ journey through the beef chuck primal (which is usually reserved for grinding because it’s tough) to deliver a steak whose tenderness and flavor rivals “middle meats” such as the strip or filet.

Zombie Slayer

After discontinuing the Odwalla brand early in July, Coca-Cola announced it would cut more “zombie brands” from its portfolio. The Food Institute quoted Coke’s CEO James Quincey who said the company decided to “ruthlessly prioritize” core brands. Some of the recent performers in Coke’s portfolio, according to Quincey, are the Topo Chico brand of sparkling mineral water and Fairlife milk.

Anything But Meat

KFC stirred some discussion when the chain announced researching 3D-printed chicken nuggets, in partnership with Russian technology company 3D Bioprinting Solutions. Andrei Rukavishnikov from 3D Bioprinting Solutions told Food Dive: “[The nuggets] are completely fresh. They are alive still. The product will be more fresh than sushi or sashimi or whatever.”

Taking meat substitution in a new direction, Food Dive explored a “proof of concept” from North Carolina-based Arbiom’s SylPro, which has made a product that can replace traditional soy, pea and wheat proteins with a product made from fermented wood pieces. Yum, fermented wood.

Diet Soda Isn’t Really

In a study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association on July 22, a team from Boston Children’s Hospital found that artificial sweeteners may not be the savior we thought they were. The researchers noted, “Replacing consumption of [sugar-sweetened beverages] with either [artificially sweetened beverages] or [unsweetened beverages] for 12 months had no effect on cardiometabolic risk factors.” Washington Post reporter Tamar Haspel commented: “This has GRIM implications for the anti-sugar crusade, and soda taxes.”