March 27, 2020
Friday by Noon:
Coronavirus > All Else
“We have been blessed with plenty when it comes to America’s food supply. Empty shelves can be frightening, but empty fields and barns would be devastating.”Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau Federation
COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of life and we are continuing to track its impact on food production. As of this week the share of conversations about the coronavirus has skewed beyond anything we’ve analyzed since we began in 2012.
In fact, this is the first time a single topic has outpaced every other topic combined.
A few other major topics surfaced, especially the rise of the hashtag #plant20 among the agricultural community as the spring planting gets underway in the face of possible flooding on par with 2019. And many offered support for farmers during National Ag Day and National Ag Week.
However, conversations inevitably returned to the crisis at hand. This week, discussion was split between the administration declaring food and agriculture to be “critical infrastructure” and relief measures that the U.S. Senate approved on Wednesday night.
We take comfort in the fact that reliable sources indicate a dependable food supply will continue to nourish this uncertain world.
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The Intel Distillery Team
- Chef Bobby Flay addressed fans live from his living room on March 22 to discuss how cooking has been a refuge for him while social distancing.
- The Counter broke down best practices for takeout food safety.
- On March 23, Bloomberg columnist Leslie Patton called attention to the influx of takeout and delivery business buoying sales and reviving chain restaurants.
- Even Michelin-starred restaurants have pivoted to takeout and delivery business. Food & Wine compiled a list of gourmet meals you can get to go (cloth napkins not included).
- Los Angeles Times noted rising meat sales across butcher shops and provided readers with a list of the best meats to freeze for later.
- On March 22, The New York Times interviewed Steve Sando, owner of heirloom bean supplier Rancho Gordo about bean’s sudden uptick in sales and popularity. “It’s just shocking. I used to be the loneliest man at the farmer’s market.”
- On March 21, the Department of Homeland Security officially named food and ag a “critical infrastructure” sector.
- On March 25, in Food Safety News,FDA deputy commissioner Frank Yiannis reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to “safeguarding the human and animal food supply, helping to ensure that our food is not contaminated at any point.”
- Meatingplace reported that, as of March 23, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service temporarily adjusted its labeling policies to allow products intended for food service to be diverted to retail instead.
- The USDA and Department of Labor have joined forces to identify pre-existing foreign farm workers who could be available to transfer to a different employer’s labor certification, after farmers expressed concern about a lack of available laborers for harvest season.
- The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University highlighted the ways food policy reform and pandemic preparedness work hand in hand.
- Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of Preventive Medicine Research Institute, posted insights on a March 21 LinkedIn article “how to enhance your immune system so that if you are exposed, you can reduce the chances of getting sick.”
- On March 23, Quartzamplified reports from the French health authority: “losing your sense of taste or smell appeared to be a symptom of Covid-19.”
- In the CNBC “Squawk on the Street” podcast, Coca Cola CEO James Quincey reassured employees and investors, “The Coca Cola Company system has been through many crises, and we’ve got crisis adjustment in our DNA.”
- The Hill recapped a message from Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider to employees: “Please get ready for the storm to hit — because hit it will.”
- On March 24, The Wall Street Journal chronicled how distilleries are using their alcohol supplies to make hand sanitizer amid reports of nationwide shortages.
- In a March 20 news release, PepsiCo expanded benefits to its “frontline employees” who are serving communities by replenishing the food supply.
- On March 24, Eater published app-level data on how COVID-19 has “brutalized” restaurants.
- NPD Group attributed an 8% decline in restaurant transactions to social distancing. Meanwhile, Nations Restaurant News posted data from Foursquare that showed an 11% increase in visits to quick-service restaurants.
- Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen announced plans to pay employees a bonus: “The true heroes in this story are our associates, and we want to provide them with additional resources and support to help them continue their remarkable effort.”
- On March 19, FMI (the Food Industry Association) and the International Foodservice Distributors Association created a “matching program” to connect foodservice distributors with excess capacity to retailers and wholesalers that need additional resources to fill demand.
- AgProfessional writer John Phipps took stock of shifting food shopping sources: “Instead of 30% food volume from restaurants, consumers will only be getting at most 16%. The remaining 14% will have to come from groceries/supermarkets. This would be a throughput jump of … 20%. That’s a whopping step-change for any industry.”
- On March 21, The Wall Street Journal’s agriculture beat reporters outlined the crisis from the farming perspective, and emphasized the compounding hardships associated with labor, the weather and commodity prices.
- Food & Wine covered the possible disruption to the farm labor: “In response to the coronavirus the federal government said it would temporarily stop processing H-2A visas in Mexico which allows seasonal farmworkers into the U.S.”
- Feedstuffs communicated: “No evidence has emerged that [the] virus causes noticeable infections in livestock or poultry.”
- Elanco CEO Jeff Simmons tweeted, “Grocery stores are scrambling to stock meat, eggs, and milk as fast as consumers are buying. What you as farmers and vets do matters.”
- With regard to planting season, Bayer CropScience reassured farmers that, “As you gear up for #plant2020, know that we’ve got your back! Together we are #StillFarming!”
- Tractor manufacturer Case IH thanked farmers: “As the rest of the world shuts down, you’re keeping bellies full.”
- Corteva Agriscience CEO Jim Collins posted a heartfelt essay on LinkedIn praising the dedication of our food suppliers.
- Time featured anti-hunger advocate José Andrés and his charity, World Central Kitchen, calling him “a lesson of leadership in crisis.”
- Union of Concerned Scientists implored the Trump administration to prioritize bailouts for family farms and farmers markets, “or they’ll risk breaking the backbone of their local food economies.”
- Greenpeace warned against pro-plastic industries that use the outbreak “as an opportunity to exploit people’s fears around COVID-19 to push their pro-pollution agendas.”
- A number of influential figures shared a tweet from advocacy group Suit Up Maine that reminded consumers: “When stocking up for #SocialDistancing, if an item has a WIC symbol beside the price, get something else. People who use WIC to feed their kids can’t switch to another brand or kind of food. If a store runs out of WIC-approved options, they will go home empty-handed.”
- The National Restaurant Association canceled its annual convention that was scheduled for May 16 to 19 in Chicago.
- The Consumer Brands Association thanked California’s governor for keeping critical infrastructure running despite shelter-in-place orders.
- USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward encouraged consumers to support local restaurants: “I, for one, want my favorite restaurants to be there with me, so I’m ordering takeout from them this weekend.”
- American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall reiterated the agriculture industry’s dependence on “access to a skilled workforce to help with the work of planting, cultivating and harvesting our crops.”
In that sliver of white space of topics not related to the coronavirus crisis, we found a few other topics to review:
Happy Ag Day to You!
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue marked National Ag Day, March 24, by challenging Americans to keep agriculturalists top of mind: “In very uncertain times … one thing has remained steadfast: America’s farmers, ranchers and producers.” Bader Rutter (which owns The Intel Distillery) celebrated with a video thanking farmers, while our partners at Zoetis and Corteva also did their part to honor the day.
Peter Hemings, Head Chef and Master Brewer
Food & Wine highlighted a new beer inspired by an 1822 recipe, made at Colorado-based Avery Brewing. The original recipe was created by a little-known figure in craft brew history: Peter Hemings, head chef, master brewer and slave at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation. Avery Brewing is promoting the beer “in hopes of giving [Hemings] the credit and recognition he deserves as one of America’s pioneering craft brewers.”
Dairy Deals Off
On March 20, Brownfield Ag News reported Dean Foods had walked away from a $425 million deal with Dairy Farmers of America. The article cites documents obtained by Bloomberg that confirmed, “Dean Foods Co. abandoned a deal to make Dairy Farmers of America the lead bidder for its assets after resistance from creditors and its bankruptcy judge.”
Why the Raisin Hate?
On March 25, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which includes the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.” Findings were in line with 2019 findings with produce like strawberries and kale in the “dirty” column and avocados and sweet corn in the “clean.” However, the group (which typically does not consider dried fruits in its rankings) chose to single out non-organic raisins as having the highest occurrence. Food Safety News reporter Coral Beach shared the findings, noting the Alliance for Food and Farming calls EWG’s work “junk science.”
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