While this is our last edition of Friday by Noon for 2021, it’s not the last email you’ll get from us this year. Look for a short piece next week that lays down our predictions for the biggest topics in food, beverage and ag in 2022.

In the meantime, here’s what leaders in food, beverage and agriculture discussed to close out the year:

  • Tornadoes wreaked havoc, but prompted some to step up to help.
  • Animal protein groups focused on climate-friendliness.
  • Big players reflected on this year and predicted next year.

“In times of great need like these, it’s important that we help in the way we know best — by providing essentials like food and water as well as a helping hand.”

Randy Edeker, Chairman and CEO, Hy-Vee

Disaster Begets Goodness

The weather continues to severely hamper food production. All summer long, wildfires and drought plagued the western U.S., hampering produce, grains and livestock. By late August, hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast region and the East Coast, crippling food transportation and international trade.

The weather incident in Kentucky illustrates how vulnerable our food system is to extreme weather after a series of tornadoes killed dozens of people and wreaked havoc in five states. The episode highlighted another key theme of recent years: Food companies are often first to jump in and help with disaster relief efforts.

  • On December 13, Reuters’ Tom Polansek summarized the damage in poultry powerhouse Kentucky, where an entire Pilgrim’s Pride hatchery was destroyed. The tornadoes also ruined many grain silos and a John Deere tractor dealership.
  • The Daily Scoop detailed the damages to the University of Kentucky Extension’s crop research efforts in Princeton, Kentucky, where the tornadoes flattened every single structure.
  • Food companies were quick to help victims. Meatingplace described how poultry producers Pilgrim’s and Tyson Foods activated “funds and food” immediately in response.
  • Ahead of a high-profile 2022 partnership with KFC, Grammy-nominated “What’s Poppin'” rapper Jack Harlow and Yum! Brands (KFC’s parent company) will donate $250,000 to the American Red Cross to aid tornado victims (Variety).
  • The Specialty Food Association covered Hy-Vee’s mobilization of 37 employees, 327,000 bottles of water, and 222,000 snack bars to help tornado victims.

Carbon Catch-up

There has been a notable uptick in animal protein brands adopting and marketing environmentally friendly practices. Perhaps in response to the emphasis on environmental claims made by alternative protein makers, many of these adaptations cite consumer preference at their foundations.

  • Modern Farmer covered the first USDA-approved low-carbon beef certification that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing farmers who chose environmentally friendly practices. What, exactly, is “low-carbon beef”? Food & Wine detailed its origins, as well as what it means for farmers and consumers.
  • Do Good Chicken raises “climate-friendly” poultry on diverted grocery store food waste and will be available at major national retailers in February. Politico cited the product launch as “a sign of things to come as the food industry increasingly grapples with consumer concern about the climate crisis.”
  • Kroger has entered into a partnership with Kipster Farms to produce a “carbon-neutral, cage-free egg.” The farm “uses chicken feed made from surplus food from bakeries and other food producers” and “minimizes fine particle emissions, resulting in better air quality.”
  • Fifteen years after it launched a “Cleaner Wiener” made of organic, grass-fed beef, Applegate introduced the Do Good Dog, “the first nationally available hot dog sourced from verified regenerative U.S. grasslands” (New Hope Network). Our opinion as marketers: “Do Good Dog” lacks the breakthrough panache of “Cleaner Weiner.”
  • Popular Science presented a well-researched comparison weighing the environmental impact of plant-based proteins like the Impossible Burger versus its animal protein counterparts. The verdict was complex, suggesting that legumes and vegetables were better overall: “while plant-based meat may fit in the climate solution, it’s far from the only, let alone most impactful one.”

Farewell ’21, Hello ’22

We’ll have an exhaustive list in our year-end wrap-up, but here’s a core sample of interesting retrospectives and predictions to hold you over through the holidays.

  • Food industry leaders got into the giving spirit. Yelp established a $100,000 fund to help Texans winterize restaurants. Consumer Brands Association compiled a list of charitable efforts by companies ranging from Conagra to PepsiCo to Tyson.
  • WWF published a report on plastic packaging, finding that Coke, Keurig, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Starbucks collectively cut “use of problematic plastic by 57%” since 2018.
  • The Washington Post and The New York Times offered competing takes on the best cookbooks of 2021. Of the 22 recommendations, only “Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ” and “Cook Real Hawai’i” appeared on both. You’re welcome, last-minute shoppers.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News Editorial Director Sam Oches discussed the ever-evolving future of ghost kitchens with Kitchen United’s Corey Manicone.
  • Not to be topped by Whole Foods’ annual trend predictions (which included Kernza and yuzu), Technomic presented a wish list of emerging global flavors for 2022: halloumi, mutabal, tlayudas and avocado coffee. These might all be delicious, but can we learn one new food at a time?

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Insta-granola Famous

After Instagram influencer Tom Bannister’s love for granola became fodder on his celebrity wife’s instagram, he got into the granola business. What has been deemed “the Birkin of granolas” has grown so popular, that at one point there were 17,000 people on the waiting list to subscribe. Grub Street mentioned that Tom’s Perfect 10 releases a new flavor each month and each 10-ounce bag costs $20.

‘What Is Art? What if Food?’

Travel writer Geraldine DeRuiter (aka “The Everywhereist”) reviewed Bros, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lecce, Italy in a blog that went viral. DeRuiter describes a chaotic 27-course meal, but “there was nothing even close to an actual meal served,” and courses varied from meat droplets to citrus foam served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth. The restaurant provided a three-page “Declaration by Chef Floriano Pellegrino” to TODAY, complete with drawings and comparisons of the food to modern art.

Pinpointing Price Proliferation

Talk of inflation and rising food prices persists. Ag economist Jayson Lusk’s team at Purdue University created a dashboard that auto-updates information on price increases by category. (The UX could use a little help, but the info is quick and valuable.) Also, UK marketing firm Ingredient Communications published research results that found “the exact point at which shoppers will consider a product to be too expensive.” Spoiler: it’s a 40% increase, but the methodology is interesting.

Enter the Triple Whopper

On December 14, Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle summarized her latest paper, which tracks increasing portion sizes in foodservice, in the American Journal of Public Health. Although some chains have reduced things like “supersizing,” the problem remains a “triple-threat” because big portions “have more calories (if only this were intuitively obvious, but it is not), encourage people to eat more, confuse people about how much they are eating.” This reminded us of two classics: Prevention’s 25 foods you should never eat, and the list of the most unhealthy restaurant meals, according to Men’s Health. Yes, Cheesecake Factory’s breakfast burrito still has 4,630 mg of sodium.

Mustard Gas

Ever eat fresh mustard and felt like your nostrils were on fire? Well, it turns out jet engines might get that feeling, too. USDA research suggests that oil from Ethiopian mustard seeds “could reduce up to 68% of carbon emissions compared to a unit of conventional aviation fuel.” Don’t get your heads in the clouds just yet, sustainable aviation fuels have sky-high prices — currently five times higher than regular fuel.