January 15, 2021
Friday by Noon:
Politics, Plants and People
The week combined the usual themes of early January: discussion about healthy diets, new product launches and new legislation. But it was hard to ignore the backdrop, as events surrounding the transition of power in Washington, D.C., dominated conversations across newsrooms, phone screens and kitchen tables.
- Food industry leaders took a stand on last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol.
- Fresh developments in meatless options grabbed headlines.
- Delivery continued to shape workforce conversations.
After rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, leading voices in food production responded in a number of ways:
- Industry groups universally condemned the violence, drawing statements from the National Restaurant Association, Plant-based Foods Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Farm Bureau Federation.
- The Wall Street Journal compiled a list of major companies that paused contributions to Political Action Committees (PACs). Retailers Walmart and Amazon specifically cut off politicians who voted against certifying the election results. ADM, Coca-cola and Kroger also opted to pause and reevaluate all donations.
- Meatingplace covered meatpackers’ activity: Cargill, JBS and Tyson paused all political contributions; Hormel Foods stated it “does not currently use corporate funds to make direct contributions.”
- DoorDash told Reuters it had “paused its engagement with [Republican reelection campaigns] until it feels that appropriate steps have been taken.”
- Environmental Working Group called for President Trump’s impeachment. The sentiment isn’t exactly uncommon among like-minded activists.
- Meanwhile, members of the Ag CEO council met with Michael Regan, the nominee for EPA administrator, to ease the transition of power (USA Rice Federation).
The January health push invoked many conversations about meatlessness, as companies continued to announce new funding rounds and introduce new options to the marketplace.
- On January 5, Food Dive published an explainer about “Veganuary,” a UK-based charity that promotes a vegan lifestyle for 31 days. It may explain, but it can’t excuse that name.
- The Spoon reported on a $32 million funding round for Air Protein as ADM, Barclays PLC and Google’s venture capital unit helped advance the idea of making “meat” by pulling CO2, oxygen and nitrogen out of the air.
- Food Management provided hospital foodservice managers “10 powerful plant-based insights and menu ideas for healthcare dining from top dietitians.”
- Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi teamed up to offer a whole-muscle cultured meat alternative to the Japanese market. Didier Toubia, CEO of Aleph Farms, told Food Ingredients First the product meets “the tastes and nuances of Japanese consumers and regulatory bodies.”
- The Beet posted that Taco Bell announced a partnership with Beyond Meat and a “veggie mode” on the chain’s app that enables customers to view a vegetarian-only menu.
- Traditional meat companies continued to add alternative proteins, including Jimmy Dean, which debuted a plant-based breakfast sausage patty (Food Business News).
- Bakery and Snacks shared the news that Outstanding Foods has raised $10 million in funding to develop “Pigless Pork Rinds.”
Taking Out Jobs
The transition to a gig economy continues to generate debate in the food industry as delivery changes the landscape for workers and industry economics. California’s Proposition 22 took effect Jan. 1, allowing food delivery platforms to continue employing workers as contractors.
- On January 5, Los Angeles Times reported on Albertsons’ decision to lay off hundreds of food delivery workers: “Albertsons says the transition is national in scope … But make no mistake. Proposition 22 … made this change almost inevitable in California.”
- The same day, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on Albertsons to halt plans: “Exploiting the passage of Prop. 22 to destroy the good-paying jobs of these dedicated frontline workers, in the middle of this public health crisis, is simply wrong.”
- On January 12, labor groups filed a lawsuit, seeking to overturn Prop 22 (CBS News).
- The Counter explored how “food delivery apps have exploded in popularity; radically reshaping consumers’ relationships with food as well as workers’ relationships with their employers.” On Jan. 7, the blog also speculated that a U.S. Department of Labor rule on independent contractor status could be a model for states even if it is repealed by the Biden administration.
- Massachusetts approved fee caps for third-party delivery services, becoming the first state legislature to impose restrictions during the pandemic (Eater).
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Reducing Waste Has Its Apeel
Wall Street Journal contributor Emily Bobrow profiled Apeel CEO James Rogers, whose company makes plant-based coatings for produce to extend shelf life and reduce waste. The 8-year-old company is now valued at $1 billion and is eyeing opportunities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Three Masks Out of Five
Nation’s Restaurant News reported that Yelp is allowing users to rate restaurants’ COVID-19 practices. In the same vein as rating restaurants as child-friendly or romantic, you can check out an operation’s social distancing and mask-wearing practices, policies and compliance.
Reviewing the Bad Apples
Food Safety News described research done by four universities that studies the effectiveness of food safety surveillance with text mining. Their process drills into online reviews of products, searching for words that indicate the products are somehow unsafe or cause foodborne illness.
Fine Wine Design
Brittany Holloway-Brown at Eater interviewed three designers about their creative processes and the inspiration behind the design of an eye-catching bottle of wine. “There is a lot of creative freedom there. It’s an opportunity to create a totally immersive experience on a super-relatable, human scale,” explains designer Mel Barat Bours.
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