August 20, 2021
Thrifty Plan, Supplies and Demand
Food stamps, vaccination mandates and future-proofing big brands were topics that resonated this week with the most influential voices in food production.
- Federal relief helps mitigate hunger and rising food prices.
- Conversation about vaccines kicks up as restaurant requirements spread.
- Foodservice and retail lay plans for the future.
Rubber Stamping Food Stamps
On August 16, the USDA announced an update to the Thrifty Food Plan, which determines the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) benefits. Both the 2018 Farm Bill and an executive order signed by President Biden had directed the agency to update the Thrifty Food Plan by 2022. (For some background info, see Feeding America’s “Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity” report.)
- The Counter, like most media coverage, focused on the change being the biggest benefit increase in the SNAP program’s history. Benefits are expected to rise by 27% over pre-pandemic levels, roughly $36 more per person per month.
- Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, cheered: “Forty-two million Americans will now have a better chance at eating a healthy diet, something that should be a basic right of all Americans.”
- National Grocers Association welcomed the first major change to the Thrifty Food Plan since 1975 as “long overdue.”
- United Fresh Produce Association thanked the USDA for updating its plans to include more fruits and vegetables.
- Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress worried about the budget, calling for review by the Government Accountability Office: “The complexity of this process, and its likely impacts, create an urgent need for scrutiny.”
- Last week, Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich reported that data on pandemic relief showed that additional monthly payments to families with children substantially reduced food insecurity.
- The Wall Street Journal ran counter to other media coverage, with the editorial board coldly calling the update “a recipe for a weaker and fatter America.”
As the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the country, vaccine requirements are spreading across the food industry. Debate about the mandates centered on restaurants, where most Americans will experience the effects.
- On August 12, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared that “high-contact indoor sectors” will need to obtain proof of vaccination or a recent negative test from patrons.
- While the city of Chicago does not yet require proof of vaccination, the Chicago Tribune found that bars voluntarily adopting the policy have largely received positive feedback.
- Texas is less friendly to such measures. The state warned Austin restaurants that liquor licenses could be revoked for requiring proof of vaccination (Texas Tribune).
- The Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon interviewed restaurant owners in New York, where they serve as “the new COVID-19 vaccine enforcers — for better or worse.”
- Grub Street writer Alan Sytsma chastised the city’s more dramatic opposition: “It’s extremely difficult for customers to dine at your restaurant if they’re all in the hospital instead.”
- Consumer Brands Association polled its members and found that, while none currently require vaccines, 66% would not rule out such a measure. CEO Geoff Freeman added, “The sooner the FDA gives its full approval, the better off we’ll be.”
New partnerships, policies and acquisitions prompted business conversations this week, with many major players planning for what lies ahead.
- Walmart has plans to expand its footprint in cryptocurrency. CNBC interpreted a recent Walmart announcement (since removed) and described the payment trend in retail. Amazon, Whole Foods and Starbucks already allow indirect crypto payments.
- A few new partnerships caught our attention, including Hershey’s teaming up with Land O’Lakes to focus on dairy sustainability (Triple Pundit) and Cargill partnering with vertical farming operator AeroFarms to improve cocoa bean yields (Progressive Grocer).
- Food Engineering detailed the sale of Sanderson Farms to both Cargill and Continental Grain. In the terms of the deal, the new owners will combine Sanderson’s assets with Wayne Farms, a Continental Grain subsidiary, to form a new poultry megabusiness.
- Also in chicken acquisition, JBS made an offer to buy up the parts of Pilgrim’s Pride that it does not already own (Food Business News), which prompted a monopoly discussion in the U.S. Senate (Politico).
- Supermarket News covered Aldi’s plans to hire 20,000 additional retail and warehouse workers as the discount retailer gears up for the holidays.
- Full-service restaurants’ takeout and delivery business continues to skyrocket, as big foodservice operators like Darden and Applebee’s adapt to meet off-premise demand (Nation’s Restaurant News).
Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.
Fact: we get excited about insects, robots and venture capital, especially when any two are combined. The Food Institute explained how, while the market for insects for human consumption has stalled, there has been solid investment in insects raised for livestock feed. Still waiting on news of robot insects.
The Wall Street Journal described a recent and much-needed injection of the younger generation leaving office jobs for farm work. “From 2012 to 2017, the number of producers under age 35 grew 11% to about 285,000, while producers age 35-64 had shrunk by 2%.”
NPR’s Vanessa Romo explained the EPA’s ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, after a lengthy legal battle. The ban, which goes into effect in six months, will prohibit the use of the insecticide on food crops such as strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli and corn.
On August 19, burrito chain Chipotle announced its foray into alternative protein, adding a plant-based chorizo to the menu. Bloomberg’s Leslie Patton covered the news, quoting Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt’s reasoning for not partnering with plant-based giants Impossible Foods or Beyond, as many others have: “They’re too processed for us, and they contain a lot of ingredients we would never have in our restaurants.”
The New York Post warned of a turkey shortage this Thanksgiving. Expect smaller birds and limited availability of fresh (i.e., non-frozen) turkeys on shelves this fall. Author Lisa Fickenscher explained, “As many turkey producers were trying to decide how many birds to hatch for this year’s holiday season, corn prices began ticking up, forcing many farmers to pull back on their supply for fear that the investment would not pay off.”
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