February 24, 2023
The February Grind
We can’t pretend there was a ton of uplifting food production news this week:
- Controversy and tension echoed throughout the food workforce.
- Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, impacting the global food supply chain.
- Experts continued their bickering over what’s healthy and authentic.
“Putin tried to starve the world.”President Joe Biden (The White House)
The Hard Way
Once again, worker issues rose to the forefront of conversations, this time around child labor and farmworker overtime, while some employers struggled to fill job vacancies throughout the supply chain.
- Leading worker-related news, Food Safety News reporter Dan Flynn detailed developments in federal investigations of underage employees at meat processing facilities. To date, a Wisconsin sanitation company has paid $1.5 million in fines for placing more than 100 minors at 13 different processors in eight states. The firm provides contract cleaning services at some of the largest processors in the country.
- “Make no mistake, this was no clerical error or the actions of individuals or bad managers,” remarked U.S. Department of Labor’s Jessica Looman (ABC News). “These findings represent a systemic failure across PSSI’s organization to ensure that children were not working in violation of the law.”
- Two dueling takes on “Supermarket Employee Day” caught our attention on February 22. FMI, The Food Industry Association, celebrated “the essential role that grocery workers play at every level of the industry and across their communities,” while the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union suggested the day “ignores the critical need for the industry to provide better wages, benefits, and treatment for these essential workers.”
- The Wall Street Journal’s Jesse Newman and Jaewon Kang detailed the systemwide need for workers across retail, foodservice and manufacturing. Besides raising hourly wages, offering bonuses, hiring temporary workers and introducing flexible shifts, companies are looking to rehire past employees: “Alumni are also a talent source,” said Tim Massa, chief people officer of Kroger.
- Civil Eats’ Grey Moran captured the tense talks between growers and farmworkers over overtime pay.
- On a lighter note, Progressive Grocer summarized a handful of “best of retailer” lists. Topping best customer service for a retailer was Albertsons, according to a 2023 INCISIV survey. By contrast, Forbes partnered with Statista to survey workers to determine the best large employers. Texas retailer H-E-B, In-N-Out Burger and Trader Joes were the three food employers in the top 20.
What Is It Good For?
Today (February 24) marks one full year since Russia invaded Ukraine, proving to be a popular time to reflect on the war’s impact. Global food supplies have rebounded from the initial shock, but international markets are still far from “normal” … whatever that is.
- On February 20, President Biden redoubled the United States’ opposition to Russia’s invasion: “Putin tried to starve the world … exacerbating the global food crisis that hit developing nations in Africa especially hard. Instead, the United States and the G7 and partners around the world answered the call with historic commitments to address the crisis.”
- Politico’s Meredith Lee Hill provided an overview of the ongoing political responses to the war.
- Ukraine is seeking to extend its agreement with Russia to allow grain shipments from Black Sea ports (Reuters). Before the war, Ukraine accounted for 42% of sunflower oil exports, 16% of corn exports and 10% of wheat exports — blocked ports contributed to food price inflation worldwide.
- Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman explained to DTN editor Chris Clayton that the long-term prospects for recovery aren’t great: “It just struck me that the Russians are attempting to absolutely destroy the infrastructure of Ukraine, totally. They can’t go out and destroy all of the farmland, but they can destroy access to the products around the world.”
- Bloomberg noted that Russia still holds “a stranglehold on the world’s food security” due to its major stake in the world fertilizer supply. The country’s potash, phosphate and nitrogen production has not been targeted by sanctions for this reason. And the alternatives are crap. Literally.
What’s healthy? What’s milk? Is that actual meat? These are some of the topics in recent labeling conversations. Particular controversy swirled around the FDA’s guidance that says plant-based beverages can keep using the name “milk.”
- FDA draft guidance on plant-based milk labeling ruffles industry feathers | AgFunder News
- FMI encourages FDA to refine healthy definition to more closely align with dietary guidelines | FMI, The Food Industry Association
- Private label sales continue to accelerate upward | Supermarket Perimeter
- How grocery execs feel about private label performance | Progressive Grocer
- Product warning labels can alter meat purchasing decisions: study | Meatingplace
- Cigarette-style meat warning labels slammed — are they coming to stores? | New York Post
- NOAA proposes rule changes to minimize risk of mislabeling and product substitution | Food Safety News
In a February 17 opinion, Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert reflected on shortcomings of food delivery and looked toward the category’s future. Lempert waded through a dozen market statistics, concluding: “Grocery and restaurant delivery companies are to blame for the discontent surrounding food delivery — they forgot it’s all about the food; and there is nothing more human than food.”
Associated Press reporter Dee-Ann Durbin dug into a growing trend in foodservice promotion: subscriptions. For monthly fees, companies offer perks ranging from unlimited coffee to free delivery or appetizers with orders. Durbin noted that it can be effective as a loss leader — On the Border Mexican Grill’s Queso Club members “visited seven times more often than the average guest.” Now, if we could just bundle restaurant subscriptions with TV streaming subscriptions … we’d still have too many subscriptions.
Pile this one onto the complicated story of today’s pricey eggs. A 2022 study by researchers from Michigan State University, Kansas State University and Purdue University found that over half of consumers are unaware of the avalanche of cage-free egg commitments by the majority of leading retailers and foodservice outlets in 2016. The study also found lower-than-expected demand for cage-free for conventional consumers: the largest segment (55%) is mostly motivated by price and does not discriminate by egg type. The study was funded by the FMI Foundation, United Egg Producers and United Egg Association (Food Processing).
Tik Tok Yuck
From Pink Sauce to Pickle Me Pickles, Eater’s Amy McCarthy laid down some harsh criticism of food sold by social media influencers: “Please remember that you have no idea about the environment in which these items are produced. You don’t know if this person washes their hands in between going to the bathroom and packing your order, or if they have 14 cats stomping across the table on which your spice blend is being mixed.”
The Punchline Writes Itself
This week, the University of Notre Dame student senate called for its Campus Dining service to provide free cooking classes. Less a sophomoric stunt than an offbeat answer to ongoing labor shortages, the resolution sponsor argues “Student workers … have expressed an interest and desire to learn more about the kitchen facilities and cooking procedures at the university to meet the need for more workers and to complete additional professional training and development.” Go flambe-ing Irish!
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