Several prominent CPG brands announced significant changes, addressing racism in their branding and packaging. Meanwhile, the worker situation throughout the food system continues to generate discussion, uncertainty and frustration. And the seafood business needs a speedy reopening in foodservice in order to stay afloat.

“As we continue to listen to people from around the world, look inward and continue to educate ourselves on how the elements of the brand are perceived, we recognize it is time for us to evolve.”

Caroline M. Sherman, Mars (The Hill)

Calling It Quits

On June 17, Quaker Oats (a PepsiCo company) announced that it “will remove the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging and change the name of the brand” by the fourth quarter of 2020. Other companies followed suit, committing to redesign packaging or remove certain brands altogether.

  • Jessica Wohl provided background in Ad Age: “Aunt Jemima’s image and name are being retired in a major branding shift that comes weeks into the rising swell of racial justice announcements from companies following the killing of George Floyd.”
  • Kristin Kroepfl, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Quaker Foods North America addressed this head-on in a widely quoted statement: “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”
  • Caroline M. Sherman, VP of Corporate Communications and Affairs for Mars, who owns the Uncle Ben’s brand, said in a release: “As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.”
  • B&G Foods, owner of the Cream of Wheat Brand, posted a statement online: “We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”
  • ConAgra’s release concerning the Mrs. Butterworth brand of syrup said, “We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values…we have begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s.”

Focus on Workers…Still

Workers across the entire food supply chain remain at the forefront of discussions. Meat plant workers garnered the majority of attention, but reports of sick workers in produce processing, farms and restaurants have also raised concerns.

  • As part of a June 10 “No Workers Left Behind” virtual meeting at the US Capitol, United Food and Commercial Workers International President Mark Perone pleaded with a congressional panel, demanding better protection from COVID-19.
  • Meat & Poultry reported that Cargill established a relief fund for workers battling the coronavirus with a $15 million contribution.
  • Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called on the federal government to set standards, provide protective equipment and guarantee testing to all food industry workers. (Agri-Pulse)
  • On June 15, The New York Times presented a video interview with a former Tyson chicken plant employee who questioned many of the company’s priorities in terms of worker safety.
  • Food Processing suggested that produce processing plants may become the next COVID-19 hot spots due to crowded working conditions.
  • The Washington Post’s Emily Heil provided several anecdotes of restaurants reclosing after hurrying to reopen as workers are testing positive for coronavirus.
  • NPR highlighted the current fruit farming situation in states like Washington where workers continue to fall ill to the coronavirus and demand better protection.
  • After two workers died from COVID-19 in Ontario, Reuters reported that Mexico’s labor ministry will refuse to send workers to Canadian farms that have reported coronavirus infections.

Turbulent Waters

The aquaculture and seafood industries continue to suffer as a result of pandemic-related restaurant closures as foodservice represents a significant portion of seafood sales. The struggling industry welcomed new government policies, but is faced with ongoing challenges of sick workers and criticism from special interest groups.

  • The Trump Administration introduced a number of aquaculture policies, including a May 7 executive order that Chris Oliver of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration broke down.
  • Responding to the recent government actions, Friends of the Earth Grace Chen asserted: “all … would severely undermine or eliminate protective regulations and cut corners in the permitting process for dangerous marine infrastructure, including offshore aquaculture facilities.”
  • The Counter published a post by Maine lobster fisher Herman Coombs who shares his struggles to manage a business in one of the worst lobster markets in recent history.
  • Just weeks into the summer fishing season, NPR reported COVID-19 illnesses among crew members who work in close quarters on fishing vessels.
  • The Wall Street Journal explored techniques used by fish farms to slow the growth of fish until consumer demand picks up.
  • Hampering Washington’s shellfish industry even more, a federal judge ruled to remove a general permit for growers that the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association said will exacerbate a dire situation with additional investment and compliance requirements.
  • The New York Post commented lightheartedly on the federal sentencing this week of Bumble Bee CEO and President Christopher Lischewski for his role in the price-fixing conspiracy: “Now he’ll be the one spending time in the can.”

“I’m a Maine lobsterman. I leave a lot of my life up to chance. But I don’t know if I can handle this level of uncertainty.”

Herman Coombs, Maine lobster fisher (The Counter)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

We Heart Health

Two studies from Tufts and Harvard, respectively, discuss heart health and different prevention measures for the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

  • A study from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy indicated that listing calorie counts on restaurant menus can prevent “meaningful disease and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs,” according to Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School.
  • Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health outlined a variety of four specific eating patterns, all of which improve heart health and all of which focus on “whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts, and lower intakes of red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.”

More, Snacks, Healthy

Food Business News’ Sam Danley reported in depth on the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2020 Food and Health Survey which tracked changes in consumer eating habits due to the pandemic. Consumers said they’re cooking and snacking more, while at the same time eating healthier than usual.

Life Happens (in Restaurants)

Restaurants offer more than food, they provide a “theater of experience.” To underscore the point, The New York Times published a collection of stories from renowned writers on their fondest memories dining out. Reflections spanned fine dining with children and a life-changing job as a NYC waiter to a missed celebrity encounter and finding comfort in trendy restaurant chains.

A Pandemic Scramble

Food Dive looked at volatility in the egg market as the coronavirus pandemic sent prices to a high of $3 per dozen in early April. Later that month, lawsuits were filed, accusing leading egg producer Cal-Maine of inflating prices. Urner Barry egg market expert Brian Moscogiuri reasoned, “Price has an influence on both supply and demand so that things can find a balance again, … And though prices skyrocketed there because of the unprecedented demand in a very short period of time, price is starting to fix the lack of availability on the shelf.”