The unfolding coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate just about every aspect of conversations in food production. In previous weeks, we outlined industry content segment by segment, but in this edition we focus on three distinct themes:

  1. The dramatic effect on workers throughout the supply chain
  2. The major changes in food consumption at the consumer level
  3. The important events that have been canceled, postponed or moved to the back burner

The first quarter of 2020 closed this week, and our quantitative analysis of industry discussions verified coronavirus’s enormous impact across the entire food production business. Notably, worker issues are surfacing as the issue that the crisis has impacted most aggressively.

Later this month, we’ll also release our quarterly Top Ten Topics, which will help put this unprecedented period into further perspective.

“It’s definitely eye-opening. Because people are now saying, ‘Oh, my God, these people deserve hazard pay.’ But these are the same people who say we don’t deserve $15 an hour.”

Courtney Meadows, cashier, Kroger (NPR)

1. Concern for Front-line Workers

Some leaders used their position to offer support and stand in solidarity with their front-line workers. Meanwhile, companies that failed to act drew the ire of employees who complained that not enough had been done to ensure their health, safety and well-being.

Undocumented Workers:

  • Salon voiced concern for undocumented restaurant workers amid record unemployment rates. The article cites Pew research statistics that estimate, “In 2014, about 1.1 million, or 10% of restaurant workers were undocumented.”
  • The New York Times interviewed undocumented farm workers who — while deemed essential — still face possible deportation and are not eligible for any of the $2 trillion stimulus package.
  • The Washington Post reported that more than 10 million people applied for unemployment as of April 2.

Hospitality Workers

  • Grub Street called for kindness and empathy toward the front-line workers keeping America fed.
  • David Gibbs, CEO of Taco Bell and KFC parent company Yum! Brands, donated his salary to fund bonuses for managers and an employee relief fund.
  • Bloomberg spoke with laid-off and furloughed hospitality employees who “are hesitant to apply for the new jobs for a number of reasons, including safety concerns.”
  • NPR made the case for hazard pay and paid sick leave for essential workers. “Work that is often low-paid, and comes with few protections, is now suddenly much more dangerous.”

Food Production Workers

  • Vox spoke with advocacy groups who represent Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods workers striking for safer conditions: “The companies they work for are not providing basic support, like giving them the time and supplies to wash their hands between shifts.”
  • ProPublica summarized different meat processors’ employee safety responses and asked, “What happens if the workers cutting up the nation’s meat get sick?”
  • Agri-Pulse reported that five federal employees, including one FSIS inspector, have sued the federal government for hazard pay for working during the coronavirus crisis, seeking class-action status for more than 100,000 employees.
  • Food Navigator provided food processors with some best practices to ensure their workforce stays safe and healthy.

Retail Workers

  • The United Food and Commercial Workers Union announced that talks with Kroger resulted in a $2 per hour wage increase and several other benefits and protections for 460,000 workers nationwide.
  • Walmart announced it would begin taking employees’ temperatures as a safety precaution. Associates “with a temperature of 100.0 degrees will be paid for reporting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment.”
  • Reuters noted many major grocery chains have begun installing plexiglass partitions at checkout counters to protect cashiers.
  • Trader Joe’s employees circulated an online petition demanding “safe work conditions and hazard pay.”
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2. Changes in Food Consumption

Pandemic shopping and cooking has consumers reconsidering what is essential.

  • Agri-Pulse postponed its Food and Ag Policy Summit West until September 9.
  • The Institute of the Masters of Wine canceled this year’s introductory exams.
  • The Institute of Food Technologists transitioned its annual conference to a fully virtual experience.
  • The National Pork Producers Council canceled World Pork Expo for the second year in a row. The group dropped last year’s event as a precaution for African swine fever.
  • Senators pushed for the delay of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, worrying the pandemic leaves “little, if any, time and resources to prepare for a smooth transition.”
  • Following up on China’s January commitment to purchase agricultural goods from the U.S., Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced: “China is moving in the right direction to implement the Phase One agreement.”
  • As a reminder, in mid-March the FDA postponed routine domestic facility inspections.
  • Nutrition Facts labeling compliance is also canceled for restaurants that wish to sell unused inventory as grocery products to buoy sales.

“We need to continue to produce in this crisis. That’s the first step of normalcy for a lot of people is you show up to the grocery store and if there is food on the shelf, and so we have a big part in returning a calmness to the market.”

Steve Presley, CEO, Nestlé USA (Food Dive)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Cook Together Apart

Bon Appétit proposed a way to pass the time during a coronavirus-induced state of boredom: crowdsource recipes among friends and make a virtual cookbook. Author Ella Quitnor says the Google doc she created now serves as “a place I can go to feel like I’m hanging out with friends even when I haven’t spoken to anyone but Siri for days.”

Waste Not Want Not

National Geographic suggested apps, food banks and organizations that work to redistribute food from homes, restaurant kitchens and fields that would otherwise be wasted. For example, Replate allows businesses to schedule on-demand pickups for surplus food in Austin, the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle.

Milk Man Revival

With social distancing confining people to their homes, The New York Times has tracked the resurgence of the milkman. The appeal of having “one less reason to venture outside, one way of avoiding snaking queues and empty shelves at supermarkets, at least one essential that can be guaranteed” is piquing consumers’ renewed interest.

Go With the Flow

On March 31, the heads of the World Trade Organization, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization called on world leaders to remove trade-related barriers to the food supply and “show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world.”

Not-so-secret Society of Snackers

Food & Wine reported that Frito-Lay has formed a not-so-secret “Snack Society.” With the help of tech firm Zyper, the snack company identified its 22 biggest fans and inducted them into the exclusive group, where they receive “free snacks and exclusive swag, as well as access to things like new products and branded events” in exchange for content creation and their opinions on new snacks. Lucky …