Conversations about food continue to get more complicated, ideological and political. This week, politics and the pandemic continued to fuel intense — and sometimes hostile — discussions, forcing brands to make decisions about issues that would have been unfathomable in previous eras.

  • Coca-Cola found itself in the middle of a political kerfuffle.
  • Grocers doubled down on digital sales strategies.

“Want to bring Coca-Cola — a global behemoth with a market value of over $235 billion that sells more than 500 brands in more than 200 countries — to its knees? Good luck with that.”

Paul Brandus, Columnist/Author, West Wing Reports (USA Today)

The Pause That Enmeshes

Food (and beverage) politics got serious after state lawmakers in Georgia passed controversial voting rules in late March that many believe were designed to depress minority turnout. Capitol Beat quoted Gov. Brian Kemp as he assured residents, “The facts are this new law will expand voting access in the Peach State.” Meanwhile, the rules sparked a firestorm of debate and criticism that affected one of the world’s most visible food brands, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. For more background, The Wall Street Journal posted a clear outline of the rules and their potential impact. We’ll focus on how voices influential to food production reacted.

  • Before the bill was signed, advocates pressured Coca-Cola to oppose the rules and the company ultimately issued a statement on April 1: “We want to be crystal clear and state unambiguously that we are disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia voting legislation.”
  • Both The New York Times and CNBC interviewed Coke CEO James Quincey, who used the opportunity to harshly criticize the legislation. The NYT interview goes far deeper into Coca-Cola’s strategies and issues.
  • On April 3, a group of eight Georgia House of Representative members, in a letter to Coca-Cola leadership, said they would remove Coca-Cola products from their offices, citing “Coke’s choice to cave to the pressure of an out of control cancel culture” (Atlanta Journal Constitution).
  • Two days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doubled down, but did not mention any companies by name: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.” Soon after, at a press conference, McConnell backed away from the comments (The Wall Street Journal).
  • USA Today Opinion Columnist Paul Brandus pointed out the futility of the whole situation: “Coke didn’t cave, as Trump and others claim. It’s just doing what Trump has always done himself: determining what’s best for business and acting accordingly.”

Selling Food by Cellphone

While warm weather has us wishing for an end to pandemic restrictions, it’s clear that some changes are likely to stick around. Retailers are betting that online grocery sales are one of those changes.

  • Research group Power Reviews found that 73% of shoppers recently made online grocery purchases, compared with 17% in 2017. And it’s not just Amazon; two-thirds of respondents purchased from local grocers.
  • Kroger deemed digital sales so important that the subject became a core component of its March 31 investor day.
  • Ahold Delhaize CFO Natalie Knight told The Wall Street Journal that the grocer — which owns delivery service Peapod — plans to redouble investments in “omnichannel” sales.
  • On March 30, Albertsons announced a partnership with Google to develop “the world’s most predictive grocery engine.”
  • Even meat processors are getting in on the game. Tyson Foods e-commerce director Jennifer Fitting explained her company’s emerging direct-to-consumer strategy in a Food Dive guest post.
  • But wait, there’s more! Food Business News featured the growing niche of emerging food brands showcasing their goods on QVC.

“It’s true that the shift to spending more time at home and eating less at restaurants was a tailwind for our industry … those who are able to convert this short-term boost into long-term competitive advantages will emerge as winners.”

Rodney McMullen, CEO, Kroger (Supermarket News)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

But Are ‘We’ Meat?

Adweek’s T.L. Stanley explored Impossible Foods’ first national ad campaign, “We Are Meat.” Agency Wieden+Kennedy Portland executed the campaign, which boldly targets burger lovers’ affinity for “more meat with cheese on it on a bun with a bun on top,” and closes with the phrase, “impossible meat … made from plants.” UC Davis animal science professor Frank Mitloenher tweeted, “I bet some will have a beef with that.” And this just in: Reuters reported on April 8 that Impossible Foods is prepping for a $10 billion IPO within the next year, “substantially more than the $4 billion the company was worth in a private funding round in 2020.”

Ketching Up

First, let’s clarify — it’s a ketchup packet shortage, brought on by the foodservice pivot to carry-out and delivery. On April 5, The Wall Street Journal surveyed the latest supply chain biff: “The pandemic turned many sit-down restaurants into takeout specialists, making individual ketchup packets the primary condiment currency for both national chains and mom-and-pop restaurants.” Chicago hot dog temple Gene & Jude’s, which in respect of local tradition denies customers access to ketchup, quipped on Instagram: “Did you hear about the ketchup shortage? Neither did we.”

Snooty? Snotty!

As new virus variants forced France into a renewed stage of lockdown, journalists probed into secret restaurants and clubs serving the country’s elite. The Associated Press summarized French TV channel M6’s expose of the issue: “At one venue, white-gloved waiters presented fixed-price menus running from 160 to 490 euros (around $190 to $575) per person whose offerings included Champagne, truffles with foie gras, and lobster in ginger sauce. One host said guests don’t wear masks, despite France’s indoor mask requirements, because ‘it’s a private club. We want people to feel at home.'”

A Plan for 8 Million

Forbes writer Errol Schweizer toplined New York City’s 10-Year Food Policy Plan. The document looks to build an equitable, sustainable and healthy food system for New Yorkers: “Food Forward plan acknowledges the complexity and enormous scope of New York City’s food system. Over 8 million people call the city home, with over 500,000 food sector employees and 40,000 food businesses. The city is among the most ethnically diverse places on the planet, with stores and restaurants that cater to nearly every culture and palate.”

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Last Friday, April 2, was National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. While The Intel Distillery staff chose to celebrate the occasion quietly in our own homes, Ashley Bigger penned a short history of this American sandwich staple for online aggregator Mental Floss. Fun fact: The jelly flavor featured in the original 1901 recipe was crabapple, which can be sourced online from “small batch” producers. Of course.