Programming Note: Friday by Noon will return August 25.

Rising costs continue to force change throughout food production, driving ongoing evolution of shopping habits at foodservice and retail.

  • Meatpackers process market pressures
  • Trends adapt to changes in three W’s: what, where and when
  • Innovation addresses wide-ranging issues

“It would be convenient if the perspectives and behaviors of sustainability-focused shoppers were uniform. That would enable the food industry to easily understand these consumers.”

Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, FMI

Unpacking Losses

It’s a tough time to be a meatpacker. The Biden administration has targeted the sector as part of its anti-consolidation efforts, citing big profits early in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, increasing competition isn’t all that might put a damper on the biggest packers’ and processors’ finances. 

  • RFD-TV shared beef industry statistics showing that packer profit margins dropped to five-year lows. As producers shrink cattle herds to cope with bad weather, profit per head has “skyrocketed” for the feedlots where cattle are finished before processing.
  • The Associated Press reported that Tyson Foods lost $418 million this quarter and will close four chicken processing plants — laying off 3,000 workers — as part of cost-saving measures.
  • Seaboard Foods’ pork division tallied losses of $104 million (National Hog Farmer).
  • Smithfield Foods will close 35 hog farms in Missouri (Reuters).
  • At the farm level, pork producers are struggling as well with Fox Business reporting that California Proposition 12 is adding “lots of costs.”
  • The combination of falling meat prices and meatpacker losses underscored the point of a Wall Street Journal editorial penned last quarter: that “doesn’t sound like a monopoly.”
  • Meatingplace featured a deep dive on cargo theft, an increasing problem plaguing the industry. Shipping containers of frozen meat have been disappearing in what investigators have deemed a “sophisticated organized criminal enterprise.”
  • It’s not just the traditional meat processors struggling. Plant-based protein processor Beyond Meat saw sales plummet by 24% from last year (Food Business News).

“Appealing to the anti-GMO consumer for plant-based meat seems weird because I think that consumer is more likely to object to Beyond Meat because it’s highly processed.”

Tamar Haspel, journalist, The Washington Post (Twitter)

That’s Trendy

When and where we consume food is changing, as well as what’s on menus and grocery shelves. Here are a handful of quick hits capturing what’s trending now.

Always Be Innovating

Consumers embrace some advancements in food procurement, like mobile ordering, and reject others, like entirely self-checkout stores. Throughout food production, innovation can be seen saving money and attempting to solve problems unforeseen even a few years prior.

  • Seaweed continues to knock on the door of the human and livestock food chain. A Philadelphia-based baked goods brand is pushing marine macroalgae as a core ingredient. Arlin Wasserman, Sea & Flour CEO, told Food Ingredients First: “We believe seaweed belongs in every loaf of bread.”
  • After the company launched no less than 50 products, Food Business News dubbed this season Conagra’s “Summer of Innovation.”
  • Earlier this month, Purdue University researchers introduced a spectroscopy technique to “ferret out” food fraud. “Think about the difference between a free-range ham from Portugal, aged in a cave for two years, and a ham you buy at Walmart,” said Bartek Rajwa, research professor.
  • AgFunder News described a milestone in pollinator metrics. BeeHero has helped growers track pollinators for years with in-hive trackers. The company has expanded its ability to count bees in fields, a job previously done by people literally standing and counting bees.
  • Supermarket News ran a LinkedIn poll about the general acceptance of a self-checkout-only experience at a Kroger store in Tennessee. Unfortunately for retail leaders looking to solve labor issues, respondents did not see this as the future of retail.
  • Cargill announced a partnership with Satelligence to introduce an AI-enhanced satellite system to monitor for deforestation in its palm oil and cocoa supply chains (Edie).
  • Quality, convenience, technology and sustainability are driving trends in college foodservice, as campuses continue to normalize after the COVID-19 pandemic. Food Management reported on recent innovations like mobile ordering and AI-vending machines.

Worth Reading

Worth Reading

Barf Blog

Food Safety News writer Cookson Beecher described, in wrenchingly vivid detail, a severe case of food poisoning from an innocent-looking cup of precut fruit. The write-up also captures many missteps along the way and precautions you can take to prevent foodborne illness. Ever-applicable pro-tip: drink plenty of fluids.

Smell Them Potatoes

With a sense of smell at least 10,000 times greater than ours, the use of dogs to detect diseases in produce is increasing. Modern Farmer’s Erica Browne Grivas reported on a team of specially trained Labrador retrievers that can sniff out potato viruses, which costs farmers in the state of Idaho $34 million per year.

Is Dining in Bowing Out?

Americans are eating fast food everywhere — except at fast-food restaurants. The Wall Street Journal revealed that only 14% of fast-food diners ate their meals in a restaurant during the first six months of 2023. While many chains have pledged to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations to lure customers back to modernized dining rooms, the profitability and efficiency of to-go orders have made the prospect of these investments a polarizing topic among franchisees. What a dine-in dilemma.

Foodservice Burnout Turns to Bliss

The desire for a healthier work-life balance has caused countless workers to leave the foodservice industry. However, The New York Times detailed how the promise of a four-day workweek has convinced some workers to come back. By reducing service days or simply encouraging staff to work less, some operators have improved business plans, schedule sustainability and worker retention. The question is, will these benefits initiate a broader shift across the industry?