As we eagerly await the ad breaks pre- and post-kickoff, we’re getting by with updates on the food, beverage and agriculture industry:

  • USDA is getting stricter with sugar and salt in school meals.
  • Food will be as important as football for the Super Bowl.
  • Workers are collectively bargaining for the spotlight, after a pause.

Sugar and Salt Stifled

On February 3, the USDA announced updates to the school meals program. Considering that the program covered 4.9 billion lunches and 2.4 billion breakfasts in 2019 (USDA), any changes to the program will change students’ future eating habits and reverberate throughout supply chains.

  • The proposed changes include limiting added sugars, reducing sodium and emphasizing whole grains while providing $100 million in grants to update equipment and source locally.
  • Coincidentally, the update aligns well with a February 1 report that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published on aligning school nutrition policy with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest President Peter Lurie welcomed the changes and called on Congress to increase funding for school meals.
  • Dairy industry groups cheered the return of flavored milk options on menus.
  • The Nutrition Coalition pushed back on the USDA’s plan to roll out changes gradually: “Why should it take years? Currently, 69% of school lunches + 92% of breakfasts exceed 10% of calories as sugar.”
  • The School Nutrition Association — which represents cafeteria workers — objected to the move. President Lori Adkins warned, “School meal programs are struggling to successfully maintain current standards and need support, not additional, unrealistic requirements.”

Party Pack

You may have been told that the Super Bowl is about something called “football,” but we see it as a holiday centered on food and advertising. For those who care about details, the Kansas City Chiefs will play the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Arizona, this Sunday. To us agency folks, it’s not eating, drinking and watching; it’s called “working.”

Working It Out

We lost count of how many sections of Friday by Noon we dedicated to workers in 2022. From worker shortages to strikes and unions, the topic still hits every link of the food supply chain hard. In recent weeks, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters continued to infiltrate processing and distribution, and companies strategized on how to maintain staffing amid record low unemployment.

  • The Wall Street Journal outlined how foodservice employers are competing for migrant workers by offering higher wages. “Migrants who come to the U.S. to find work are now being hired more quickly, at higher pay and under better working conditions than at any time in recent memory.”
  • Trader Joe’s on February 3 filed an objection with the National Labor Relations Board, objecting to a union proposed by workers at a Louisville, Kentucky, store (Supermarket News).
  • At an ADM grain facility in Decatur, Illinois, Teamster workers walked off the job, citing wage discrepancies with what members of other unions receive. “Well guess what — the Teamsters have power too, and we plan on using it to get a good contract for these workers,” read a Teamsters press release.
  • On February 6, the Specialty Food Association reported that workers from UNFI, the nation’s largest natural foods distributor, unionized under another Teamsters group in California.
  • In response to President Biden’s State of the Union address, The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (which represents 1.3 million grocery and meatpacking workers) posted: “Passing a worker friendly Farm Bill, lowering healthcare costs, passing the PRO Act to strengthen the right to organize, and holding corporate employers accountable would go a long way towards building a fairer and more just economy that benefits all hard-working families.”
  • Food Business News’ Jeff Gelski summarized a February 7 Chipotle earnings call. Chipotle CFO John Hartung mentioned the burrito chain’s workforce stability getting back to pre-pandemic levels. “So the average tenure in the kitchen manager role was like 0.69 (in 2019), meaning it was about 8 months or so. Today, it’s like 0.64. So it’s like maybe 7, 7.5 months, something like that.” Solid math for an MBA.
  • Here’s a nice employee perk: quitting smoking. Supermarket Perimeter reported that Perdue Farms is offering workers at an Indiana processing plant a free smoking cessation program.

Worth Reading


While mainstream publications waxed philosophical about candy hearts, Consumer Reports (CR) took a different tack. Director of Food Policy Brian Ronholm urged CR readers to join a petition for Spangler Candy Company to remove Red Dye 3 from its candies because of ties to cancer. Ronholm added, “Inexplicably, although the FDA deemed [cosmetic] uses unsafe, ingested uses are still allowed.”

Land of Enchant … scent?

New Mexico is on track to become the first state with an official scent, according to Food & Wine. Inspired by a visit with fifth grade students, State Sen. Bill Soules proposed that the smell of hatch chiles be honored alongside the roadrunner and piñon pine. Erika Banuelos told Food & Wine, “If you’ve been around the smell of roasting green chile during August through mid-October, the smell of it is very unique.”

Look, a Styscraper!

Dubbing them “high-rise hog farms,” the New York Times published a multi-media report on the spread of tall towers dedicated to pork production. Designed to boost food production without impacting China’s limited agricultural land, this unusual approach is ostensibly a new high-tech solution; a single structure is predicted to address lagging food production by raising 1.2 million pigs a year.

Cultured … Carcinogens?

As some food media voices backtrack on their yearslong run of propping up plant-based meat alternatives, many have turned their attention toward cultured meat. Bloomberg’s Joe Fassler on February 7, pointed out that some manufacturers of cultured meat are using immortalized cells, which are pre-cancerous and sometimes fully cancerous cells used in medical research. “Leading scientists agree that cultured meat products won’t give you cancer, but the industry doesn’t have the decades of data to prove it — so it’s trying to avoid the question instead.”