It’s been a busy week as brands gear up for the holiday season.

  • Inflation invited itself to Thanksgiving dinner. Party crasher.
  • Alternative protein development shifted in favor of cell-culture tech.

Talkin’ Turkey

As the only federal holiday where a meal is the main form of celebration, Thanksgiving often exemplifies the state of the food industry. So, given that inflation has been the story of the year, it’s no surprise that food prices dominated concerns.

  • In its annual survey, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that Thanksgiving dinner for 10 costs 20% more in 2022 than it did in 2021.
  • Grocers have gone out of their way to reduce the sting, with Aldi, Kroger, Lidl and Walmart all reducing prices for Thanksgiving staples.
  • Meanwhile, The New York Post suggested that eating out may be a better value, given that restaurant prices have only increased by 5.8% since 2021.
  • On PBS NewsHour, Yuko Sato of Iowa State University explained that an ongoing outbreak of avian influenza — which has claimed 50 million birds across 46 states this year — is exacerbating inflation for turkeys.
  • Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk noted that a “downward shift in demand, coupled with higher prices, likely means fewer turkeys on the Thanksgiving table this year.”
  • For those who are cooking turkeys, the USDA offered its annual food safety advice. Our addendum: please thaw the bird before deep frying. Otherwise … BOOM!
  • Modern Farmer reported that the cranberry harvest came in short, too. Farm Progress detailed the harvest in Wisconsin, where half of the world’s cranberries are grown. The good news is that it wasn’t as bad as last year.
  • The Washington Post’s Tamar Haspel investigated the climate impact of Thanksgiving dinner. While her evaluation is largely positive, she did call out food waste as a “climate villain.”
  • Lest anyone forget about the importance of both kids and corn at the harvest meal, Green Giant partnered with Corn Kid for its seasonal messaging (Food & Wine).

“So strong is the pull of Thanksgiving turkey, even 41% of those who say they follow a vegetarian, pescatarian or vegan diet said they will eat turkey on Thanksgiving. The turkey is nonnegotiable.”

Emily Moquin, Morning Consult

Protein Pivot

The alternative protein sector appears to be at a turning point. Plant-based meat substitutes have largely failed the fast food test and retail sales have also stalled. Still, the market isn’t completely bust — BOCA burgers have been around since the 80s, after all — but the betting money has moved on. To that end, investment in cell-cultured proteins has geared up steadily and the sector is rapidly approaching market readiness.

  • Beyond Meat recorded a 22.5% drop in revenue in the third quarter and recently cut 19% of its workforce (The Associated Press). Additionally, Maple Leaf Foods’ plant protein division continued to post losses through the third quarter.
  • Laura Reiley of The Washington Post chalked up the sector’s shakiness to high prices, unclear health benefits, overcrowded competition, slow restaurant sales and a lack of versatility.
  • Nestlé Chief Technology Officer Stefan Palzer told Bloomberg that the market will likely see more sustainable growth now that “overly optimistic expectations of consumer uptake” have been tempered.
  • Nevertheless, Food Business News reported that ingredient makers Ingredion and IFF remain hard at work developing new plant-based products.
  • Development of the cell-cultured proteins has been progressing rapidly, as well. Forsea Foods pulled in $5.2 million to cultivate eel protein. Vow raised $49.2 million to scale its quail-based protein. And Food Ingredients First wrote that South Korean companies are on track to obtain more patents this year than the rest of the world combined.
  • On November 16, Alt-Meat broke news that the FDA issued a letter affirming the safety of Upside Foods’ cultivated chicken product. While the lab-grown protein is not yet approved for sale, Upside founder and CEO Uma Valeti called the letter “a watershed moment in the history of food.”
  • Perhaps there’s a third way? TechCrunch featured Meatable’s hybrid approach to alternative protein, which includes both plant-based proteins and cultured animal cells in one product to speed up both product development and consumer adoption.

Worth Reading

Traceable Expenses

More than a decade after its original proposal, the FDA released its final Food Traceability Rule on November 15. Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy, championed the rule: “Food safety is first about protecting public health, but it’s also about trust. We CAN and MUST do better.” But National Grocers Association Vice President Stephanie Johnson worried, “This final rule … will be expensive to implement and require additional labor that many stores cannot spare.”

Emission Estimates

Sustainability data company HowGood announced Scope 3, a reporting feature that provides food companies with carbon emissions information from a database of over 33,000 ingredients. CEO Alexander Gillett explained to Food Business News: “There is mounting pressure from regulatory bodies and consumers alike for food companies to reduce their carbon emissions, and yet few tools are available to accurately measure the most impactful parts of the agricultural supply chain.”

Sustainable Aspirations

Food Ingredients First featured a study from ingredient company Kerry, which found that more than half of consumers are “willing to pay a premium for food and beverages which fulfill [sustainability] expectations.” But, as many dieters know, what people want to do doesn’t always match how they act. Progressive Grocer shared InsightsNow data that found sustainability has the largest “aspiration gap”: “42% of shoppers [aspire] to shop for sustainably sourced products, but only 5% [are] able to actually do this.”

Warehouse = Greenhouse?

On November 10, United Natural Foods (UNFI) and Square Roots partnered to establish indoor farms at distribution centers. Square Roots co-founder and CEO Tobias Peggs touted the partnership’s ability to “[increase] supply chain resilience and [reduce] miles driven transporting food. It’s good business, and it’s also better for people and the planet.” Getting literal about “picking” orders.