With the onset of a particularly late Passover overlapping with Earth Day, the volume of coverage and discussion of the two holidays was flip-flopped from typical years. Predictably, corporations declared their sustainability and stewardship commitments, but at a slower clip due to persistently high food prices. As a result, Passover seemed to draw more attention than usual while ongoing coverage of worker issues continued in the background.

“There’s not a day that goes by when farmers aren’t thinking about how to leave the land better than we found it.”

Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau Federation

Just Another (Earth) Day

Compared with previous years, Earth Day (April 22) generated less attention this year. One factor seems to be the extension of the holiday into “Earth Month.” Another issue at play is that sustainability is an ongoing discussion in food and agriculture production, making the notion of Earth Day less special.

  • An array of companies tracked progress against sustainability goals, including Del Monte, General Mills, Pizza Hut, Smithfield and Stop & Shop.
  • Plastic served as a focal point for some brands. Sysco detailed its efforts to reduce packaging. Starbucks unveiled a cold cup made with 10-20% less plastic. And Supermarket News noted efforts from regional grocers H-E-B and SpartanNash to reduce the impact of plastic bags.
  • Foodservice Director highlighted “climate forward” themed menus from Metz, ISS Guckenheimer and the Culinary Institute of America.
  • DTN’s Chris Clayton contrasted two water-related stewardship approaches: one that seeks to curtail nitrogen runoff from farmland and another that challenges which land can be farmed based on how the government defines a “wetland.”
  • American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall remarked, “There’s not a day that goes by when farmers aren’t thinking about how to leave the land better than we found it.”
  • The Biden administration promoted several of its initiatives, including biofuels (USDA), agroforestry (USDA) and conservation funding (Agri-Pulse).

Our Takeaway: As pressure rises for companies to lower prices, some are shying away from flashier — and often expensive — environmental commitments. Expect to see more incremental ESG updates until deadlines become urgent.

You Can’t Hurry Labor

The workforce is a workhorse topic for reporters these days. Between developments from the Supreme Court, FTC, states and corporations, the employment landscape is rapidly shifting. We expect to follow up on each of these topics as they develop further.

  • How the Starbucks case at the Supreme Court could affect unions everywhere | NPR
  • Starbucks leads business opposition to pro-worker labor board | The Wall Street Journal
  • FTC bans noncompete clauses, but move faces legal challenges | Nation’s Restaurant News
  • Child labor is a serial offense, and does not bode well for food safety | Food Safety News
  • Kroger listed in top 3 out of 100 ‘Best Workplaces for Diverse Professionals’ | Supermarket Perimeter
  • Maine governor vetoes bill to create a minimum wage for agricultural workers | The Associated Press
  • California strawberry farmworkers fight for living wages | Civil Eats

Our Takeaway: By taking up the Starbucks case, the Supreme Court may limit one mechanism the Biden administration has used to bolster its pro-union agenda. This could stall momentum that unions have gained amid a tight labor market. Conversely, the FTC’s ban on noncompete clauses will allow more workers to job-hop within an industry.

Unleavened Experiences

Passover, a week-long Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt, began on April 22. Marked by the Seder ritual and eating of unleavened bread (matzo), the holiday stirred plenty of posts and conversations.

  • Throughout April, writer Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner’s Food & Wine articles explained different aspects of the holiday, including different levels of keeping kosher to what yellow caps on Coca-Cola bottles mean: “Substituting high-fructose corn syrup with cane sugar to sweeten the drink.” 
  • A team of NPR writers covered the significance of matzo amid the backdrop of the war currently raging between Israel and Hamas. 
  • Bloomberg’s Deena Shanker described the effort matzo maker Streit puts in to ensure its product remains free of any leavening whatsoever, even salt, which would render the product chametz (Hebrew for forbidden) for Passover. 
  • Stalwart all-things-kosher brand Manischewitz scored major press for debuting its graphic rebrand just in time for Passover. “In a citrusy palette of Manischewitz orange, the old standbys have been gussied up with doodle-y illustrations and a cheerfully zaftig new font,” drooled Grub Street’s Matthew Schneier. We applaud his use of “gussied up.”
  • The Speciality Food Association reported that plant-based advocates Jewish Vegan Life launched a meatless campaign taking advantage of the concurrence of Passover and Earth Day. 
  • Pecan pie matzo crunch, anyone? CNN posted some tasty looking Passover dessert recipes.

Worth Reading

Influence is Power

To showcase the power of marketers and social media in the restaurant industry, Nation’s Restaurant News released its annual Power List, identifying 25 restaurant marketers who are leveraging creators as well as 25 social media influencers who have amassed major followings thanks to their innovative food content. The list has historically recognized everyone from chief executives and tech entrepreneurs to general managers, and this year’s list highlights one of the most impactful tools for restaurants: social media influencers. 

Trend Emmigration

U.S. retail sales of plant-based meat continued to decline (dropping 12%) in 2023, while plant-based milk made modest gains (climbing 1%), according to AgFunder News coverage of a Good Food Institute (GFI) report. Taste and price are major hurdles to consumers making a subsequent purchase, GFI said. The investment landscape for plant-based companies is shifting, too: Funding dropped sharply in North America to $308 million (from $5.2 billion) but increased in Europe to $584 million (+74%).

Wasting Away Again

An often-overlooked aspect of food safety is whether a food can cause direct physical harm just from handling it. Food Safety News dug into phytophotodermatitis (aka Margarita Disease), or sun sensitivity linked to food or drugs. The general rule: “If you don’t want your skin to peel, then you don’t want to peel the skin of a citrus fruit when you are in the sun.” Still beats Jalapeño Blindness.

Saltier Lunch Ladies

New York Times reporter Julie Cresswell outlined the challenges faced by school lunch programs. School foodservice directors are in a very tight spot amid scarce labor availability, federal limits on salt and sugar content in foods, and major pushback from the manufacturers supplying the foods. Creswell wrote: “A debate has raged, with many parents and nutritionists applauding efforts to make lunches more nutritious while some school lunch administrators fretted that the results will be less tasty to students, reducing consumption and increasing waste.”

Artificially Illustrated
Damaged hand reaching out of citrus grove in front of sun
Easy there Parrothead: “Margarita Disease” is not nearly as fun as it sounds.

Midjourney illustration by Vince Kizior