April 21, 2023
Apart from the budget talks, we felt like kids again this week. A quiz about gross food got the team talking (check the Worth Reading section) and the biggest discussions of the week reminded us of a breakfast favorite:
- States make the first moves in addressing SNAP (aka food stamp) policy.
- Responsibility and sustainability CRACKLE into food brand corporate policy.
- Food prices continue to POP.
“The SNAP program is really well-designed. It’s effective and efficient, and it does a tremendous amount of good. Generally, proposals to change it usually are going to make it worse.”Diane Schanzenbach, professor, Northwestern University (The Washington Post)
Stuck on Work Requirements
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) continues to be a focal point of federal budget negotiations. Iowa state legislators opted to follow Congress’ lead, but crossed the finish line first. But it’s not all politics — some conversations still attended to the nutrition side of SNAP.
- In the latest round of debt limit negotiations, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) proposed stricter work requirements for recipients of food stamps (DTN). He explained, “Assistance programs are supposed to be temporary, not permanent.”
- Politico dug into the politics, quoting Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.): “Let’s be clear, this is a non-starter.” That might be a problem for McCarthy, considering that Stabenow leads the committee that oversees SNAP funding.
- Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) called the proposal a “ransom note … for those who depend on it, including 15.3 million of our children, 5.8 million of our seniors, and 1.2 million of our veterans.”
- Iowa legislators voted on April 13 to restrict access to SNAP for recipients who have more than $15,000 in liquid assets. On April 18, Iowa Capital Dispatch covered protests against the bill, which purports to save the state $7.8 million annually starting in 2027.
- The Washington Post examined the fallout after Iowa reduced access to funds last year: “Every month, 100 or so new families come to [Urbandale Food Pantry], compared with about 30 before the pandemic.”
- Separate from the politics, NYU nutrition professor emeritus Marion Nestle called the end of COVID-19 emergency benefits “a national tragedy” because the “measures were highly effective in reducing child poverty.”
- On April 20, Perishable News reported that Giant Food and Baltimore City reached an agreement to boost SNAP benefits used to purchase fruits and vegetables.
- The International Dairy Foods Association explored methods to encourage food stamp recipients to drink more milk (Agri-Pulse).
ESG Sticks vs. Carrots
We’ve been collecting Earth Day developments (it’s this Saturday, in case you were wondering), but environmental stewardship isn’t the only do-gooding on food policy agendas. Fighting hunger, making better opportunities for employees and communities, and conserving resources are some of the ways major food companies are delivering on commitments to social responsibility. We’ll round up the Earth Day commitments and news next week.
- Triple Pundit explained a study by Glow, a consumer research firm, that examined what consumers really care about from an ESG perspective. It found that half of U.S. consumers switched food brands based on sustainability considerations.
- Progressive Grocer profiled five brands it considers to be doing an outstanding job in making the planet a better place to live: PepsiCo, Hormel, Unilever, Stonyfield Organic and Procter & Gamble.
- Nation’s Restaurant News outlined Chipotle’s recently published 129-page sustainability report. In its plans to double unit count to 7,000 stores by 2030, the burrito chain aims to shrink emissions by half and commit to a “responsible restaurant design” that includes all-electric features powered by rooftop solar panels.
- Walmart’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kathleen McLaughlin penned an essay commemorating the retailer’s “Fight Hunger Spark Change” initiative, which partners with Feeding America in a year-round commitment to fight food insecurity.
- Meat processing giant Smithfield Foods rolled out a program to finance college educations for its 60,000 employees (Agri-pulse).
- Greenbiz senior editor Jesse Klein compared U.S. and European sustainable food production. Different food cultures and sensitivities to food inputs separate the two, but Europe’s regulatory stick versus the United States’ subsidy carrot remains the biggest difference in adopting “progressive” food production policies.
The topic may not be new, but food prices continue to be news. Here are recent quick takes on market conditions:
- Food inflation down, price spikes loom | Specialty Foods Association
- Will egg prices ever return to normal? | Food Business News
- High egg prices have more Iowans raising chickens. But will it save them money? | Des Moines Register
- Families are buying lower-quality food to deal with inflation: report | Supermarket News
- Economists turn more pessimistic on inflation | The Wall Street Journal
- Shoppers adjusting to inflation by toggling between stores, mostly maintaining order sizes | Progressive Grocer
- Sugar prices spike to 11-year high and could rise further due to extreme weather | CNBC
- Market Monitor — April 2023 | Agricultural Market Information System
- Top 10 hedge funds made £1.5bn profit from Ukraine war food price spike | The Guardian
The Allure of the Diminutive Snack
The Wall Street Journal’s Jesse Newman explained the trend of big food brands churning out tiny versions of popular items. “Pee-wee Trix, Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Doritos. The diminutive treats kept coming this year, with the debut of mini wafers from Hostess’s Voortman and McCain Foods USA’s bite-size mashed-potato puffs for restaurants.” We prefer the term McCain Mini Mashers™.
An Ounce of Prevention
April 10-16 marked Food Waste Prevention Week, drawing support from government and nonprofit organizations alike. Natural Resources Defense Council highlighted waste-fighting efforts at the local, state and national level. ReFED updated its Food Waste Monitor tool. The FDA provided pointers on balancing food safety and waste prevention.
Limited Edition … Cookie Drops?
The New York Times published a profile of TikTok-famous cookie brand Crumbl filled with fascinating insights on the new world of food brands built on social media. Launched in 2017 and currently deemed “the fastest growing dessert chain in the United States,” Crumbl now boasts 750 stores. It runs its own version of the TikTok/Instagram business plan made famous by Levain Bakery and Chicago’s own Bang Bang Pie: lots of mouthwatering posts featuring the top flavors and hefty portions at equally chunky pricing that inspire sales of a million cookies a day.
Professors at the Technical University of Zurich have categorized food disgust into eight distinct groupings — hygiene, human contaminants, mold, fruit, fish, vegetables, insects and animal flesh. Curious about where you stand? Want to share on social media? Take the quiz!
McDonald’s announced a series of changes to its iconic hamburger product lines, including “softer, pillowy” toasted buns, “perfectly melted cheese,” and adding onions to burger patties. But CNN captured the real scoop: “McDonald’s is just going to offer the Big Mac sauce by itself now.” Looks like dinner is going to be bucatini a la Big Mac.
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