As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its third week and continues to dominate headlines, three topics led the conversations in the food supply chain:

  • Food and beverage brands responded to Russia’s actions.
  • Workers marked several milestones.
  • Nutritionists and dietetics celebrated National Nutrition Month.

The Repercussions of War

As Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine, chefs and humanitarian groups sought to aid those affected by the ravages of war. At the same time, food companies faced difficult decisions around how to protest one humanitarian crisis without causing another.

  • Led by chef José Andrés, World Central Kitchen established outposts to provide hot meals to displaced Ukrainians. The group ramped up to 10,000 meals per day beginning March 1.
  • In addition to offering aid to Ukranians, Latvia-based Stolichnaya on March 4 rebranded as Stoli to distance itself from its Soviet roots.
  • Bars and retailers boycotted Russian vodka brands, with several U.S. states issuing explicit bans on the booze. But Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer told The Washington Post that the moves are “largely symbolic.”
  • The New York Times updated a list of brands that have limited or suspended operations in Russia, ranging from American Express to Yum! Brands.
  • For large manufacturers, the decision required a balancing act. On March 8, PepsiCo suspended the sale of soft drinks, but maintained production of “daily essentials” such as milk, baby formula and baby food. CEO Ramon Laguarta explained, “Now more than ever we must stay true to the humanitarian aspect of our business.”
  • On March 7, Unilever opted to maintain “essential” Russian operations as an independent silo — cutting off imports, exports and investments — while joining “calls for an end to this war and hope that peace, human rights, and the international rule of law will prevail.”
  • McDonald’s closed its Russian restaurants beginning March 8 in protest of the war, but continued salaries for all 62,000 employees. CEO Chris Kempczinski stated, “Our number one priority from the start of this crisis has been — and will remain — our people.”

“It’s really tough to do business in Russia under the best of conditions. … This is like going into business with the Manson family”

James O’Rourke, Professor, University of Notre Dame (Food Manufacturing)

Working Up a Celebration

A bevy of worker-related holidays and political movements were big stories this week. In Oregon, 86,000 farmworkers are one step closer to receiving overtime compensation, while across the nation, celebrations renewed focus on safety awareness and celebrating women.

  • Ag Funder News marked International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, by sharing its directory of 701 women in agrifood, as well as a data snapshot of the steadily growing list of female founders in agrifoodtech.
  • Supporting International Women’s Day, Cheyenne McEndaffer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation founded the Women’s Meat Industry Network. In an interview with Farm Journal, she explained, “As we started talking to and getting feedback from other women in the industry, there was clearly a void, where they felt that there wasn’t a specific community for them on the meat side.”
  • Agricultural Safety Awareness Program Week ends today (March 11). Throughout the week, the Farm Bureau and U.S. Ag Centers shared safety information on livestock, cost of safety, disaster preparedness, youth safety and equipment safety around this year’s theme of “Prepare. Prevent. Protect.”
  • Modern Farmer covered the March 3 Oregon Senate vote to approve a bill that establishes overtime requirements for farmworkers.
  • DoorDash, Grubhub and other companies that use independent contractors as drivers have launched advocacy campaigns in the Washington area in response to Democrats in Congress who seek to classify gig economy workers as employees (The Wall Street Journal).

Marching Toward Good Nutrition

As designated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, March is National Nutrition Month. The official theme for 2022 is “celebrate a world of flavors,” but a variety of interests added their own spin to the topic.

  • For Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Day on March 9, FMI interviewed Elizabeth Hall, RDN, about the role of nutrition policy in retail operations.
  • The International Fresh Produce Association suggested priorities for national nutrition policy, including increased funding for hunger relief programs and adoption of “produce prescriptions.” Take two carrots and call us in the morning.
  • USDA explained how the department is moving beyond food security to “nutrition security” in its policymaking.
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest focused on a study that found nutrition claims on labels can deceive consumers and called for the FDA to prohibit “nutrient claims like ‘100% Vitamin C’ on beverages that are high in added sugars.”

Hey, What’s Good This Week?

Grand Rapids, Michigan, based grocery retailer Meijer announced a major commitment to reducing carbon emissions. It plans to cut them in half by 2025 by sourcing clean renewable energy through an ambitious solar project.

  • Meijer made a 15-year commitment to purchase energy generated by the new 1,800-acre Pisgah Ridge Solar project that broke ground recently in north-central Texas.
  • The grocer estimated the clean energy it purchases will prevent more than 103,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 20,000 vehicles off the road.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

A Toast to Mother Earth’s Health

As brands move toward carbon neutrality, uses for excess carbon are emerging. The Wall Street Journal provided a peek into recent innovations — from “growing carbon-based proteins for meat substitutes” to “vodka distilled from CO2-derived products.”

Meat Power

The pandemic was no match for America’s love of meat, with nearly all American households (98.5%) buying meat last year, according to the 2022 Power of Meat report (FMI). The report also found that volume sales were up 3.9% for all meat compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Dig Ginseng?

Modern Farmer reviewed Ginseng Diggers, a new book on the history of ginseng in America. The book focuses on the Appalachian states where wild ginseng was once plentiful before over-foraging and mass extraction almost drove it into extinction.

Beef Taco á la Jelly Bean

Beef taco, guacamole and salsa are just some of the flavors in Brach’s Mexican cuisine-inspired Late Night Taco Truck Jelly Bean collection, according to Food & Wine. The mix also includes a few more tasty-sounding flavors, including churro, horchata and margarita. Are refried beans too meta?