With this last edition of Friday by Noon for 2022, we’d like to thank you for sharing another fascinating year in food. Major forces like the pandemic’s lingering effects, overseas wars and unrelenting weather events have left their mark on global food and agriculture production. Resulting supply chain uncertainty, labor market crunches and price inflation have forced innovation and improvisation at every step of food production from farm fields to processing to supermarkets.

This week, we’re looking back at 2022 through the eyes of the most influential voices in food production and, at the same time, identifying some of the macrotrends we see shaping policy in 2023.

Watch for our official 2022 Top Ten Topics to hit your mailbox mid-January and for continued weekly updates to come!

Your Friday by Noon editorial staff:
Nick Praznowski, Kyle Church, Cecilia Lo, Melissa Polley, Dennis Ryan

“TikTok is responsible for proliferating any number of bad food trends — just this year, we have it to blame for spreading the word about Nyquil-infused sleepy chicken and healthy Coke. And for creating time-sucking, viral videos touting ‘pink sauce’ and ‘it’s a chicken salad.'”

Kate Krader, Bloomberg

Hindsight Is 20 … 22

December often serves as a time to reflect, with many influential figures taking time to analyze trends and glean insights from the past year’s events.

  • Despite persistent food price inflation, Purdue University economists found that food insecurity remained stable throughout the year. We love leading with good news.
  • Green Biz highlighted achievements of sustainability-oriented women in leadership positions across the supply chain — from venture capital firms to urban farms to global beverage brands.
  • NPD Group broke down consumer purchasing habits — including food-at-home and food-away-from-home — in its annual Eating Patterns in America, finding that protein remains king.
  • Amy McCarthy of Eater countered that the “hottest trend of 2022” was worker unionization and strikes.
  • Food expanded beyond the recipes category of Google’s “Year in Search” report, accounting for six of the 10 most-searched kinds of shortages. Para los que leen Español, también tiene recetas.
  • The New York Times food desk compiled its list of best cookbooks.
  • The Takeout shared 10 of the Biggest Food Moments of 2022. Spoiler: The Choco Taco discontinuation is near the top of the list.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News looked back on the year in mergers. Meanwhile, Eater’s editorial staff selected the top 15 restaurants that opened in the past year.

Prognosticatin’

The upcoming year will bring new opportunities and challenges for leaders in food, beverage and agriculture. While there will inevitably be some surprises along the way, the biggest stories should look familiar. Above all else, each of the following topics can be simplified into one important metric — prices. Inflation has been the background of nearly every story in 2022 and we expect each of the following topics to contribute to that trend (positively or negatively) in 2023.

  • 2023 Farm Bill | Every five years, Congress balances farm programs and hunger assistance in the Farm Bill. With this year’s budget expected to top $500 billion, interest groups are looking to get their share of the handouts. Agendas include environmentalists aiming to incentivize stewardship practices, livestock groups requesting protection from foreign animal disease, specialty crop groups pursuing financial security, anti-hunger groups seeking to expand food stamps and politicians looking to keep budgets tight. This year may not have any changes as big as the 2018 Farm Bill’s hemp legalization, so we’re keeping an eye on which concessions will be needed to make it past divided chambers of Congress.
  • Weather | We won’t claim to be meteorologists, but we can predict that the impact of weather patterns will factor heavily into 2023 food production. Food prices often fluctuate based on how clear skies are around harvest time. The ongoing drought in the western U.S. is likely to persist (NOAA), threatening the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers who rely on the Colorado River.

    Importantly, conversations around how to deal with the consequences of weather and changing climates will continue to evolve. The Farm Bill may see adjustments to disaster relief provisions depending on the severity of drought, wildfires, floods and hurricanes this growing season. Similarly, corporations may reevaluate stances on climate commitments and stewardship practices.
  • Labor | Workforce shortages remain a constant factor in supply chain disruption and we expect the trend to continue into 2023. Unions have been very successful in using the labor shortage to increase wages and benefits over the past two years. During this time, movements to increase the federal minimum wage have stalled in favor of campaigns focused on state, company and industry policies. However, economic momentum is slowing and some companies — most notably Starbucks — are growing more antagonistic to organized labor’s demands. Worker groups’ tactics may shift again soon.
  • Less-predictable Events | In addition to the big issues, we’re keeping an eye out for several high-impact, potentially volatile developments:
    • Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is extending into the planting season. The war has already disrupted grain and oilseed exports from the “breadbasket of Europe,” but there’s still room for global food supply disruptions — and hunger-related unrest in Africa and the Middle East — depending on Russia’s strategic decisions. More than 400,000 acres of farmland have already been seized since the conflict began (WSJ).
    • The U.S. Supreme Court will issue a verdict on the constitutionality of California Proposition 12. The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council argue it impedes interstate trade by imposing sow housing requirements almost exclusively on out-of-state producers. Animal rights activists position the rule as a voter referendum on animal care.
    • The Biden administration is likely to continue its anti-consolidation efforts. But it’s unclear if any tangible changes to policy will be made with split chambers of Congress. The Kroger-Albertsons merger will serve as a bellwether on this front.

Worth Reading

Human Error in Human Food Oversight

On December 6, the Reagan-Udall Foundation published the findings of its months-long evaluation of the FDA Human Foods Program. The report found that unclear leadership and a lack of urgency meant that food often got put on the back burner. For more scuttlebutt, Food Safety News rounded up reactions from industry groups and activists.

Smart Investment

Barron’s writer Fang Block summarized the UBS Billionaire Ambitions Report that looked at philanthropic efforts of 2,500 billionaires. Alongside green energy and education, “four in ten billionaires surveyed by UBS chose smart agriculture as one of the areas where they can make the greatest impact.”

Plastic Particulate

This New York Times digital feature outlined some superlatives in microplastics, which are defined as any bit of discarded plastic measuring five millimeters or less. The article references one study that suggests Americans might be consuming a credit card’s worth of microplastic per week.

Plant-based Profiteers

Forbes’ Chloe Sorvino, reviewing her book Raw Deal, examines environmentalism and meat consumption trends, pointing out that modern plant-based meat alternative brands like Beyond and Impossible operate under conflicting missions. “Investors see companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods as a way to help save the planet. The problem is, they also want to get rich. Instead, they may die trying.”

A Little Holiday Ribbing

With holiday turkeys and hams ringing up famously high prices at retail this year, Bloomberg’s Leslie Patton and Michael Hirtzer pointed out some deals: prices for chicken and less-processed cuts of pork like ribs have started to cool. The article quoted experts from retail, foodservice and distributors, all of whom are improvising less-expensive alternatives for their customers.

Kicking Bad Habits

Amid the World Cup soccer hoopla, and with the upcoming college bowls and NFL playoffs, The Washington Post columnist Tara Parker-Pope reported on the correlation between big sporting events and big health events. “If you’re a sports fan, be careful! All that heavy drinking, eating of fatty foods and high stress during game play can take a toll on your health. If you find yourself getting too stressed, walk the dog, hug a friend, or do some jumping jacks.”

Yo Quiero Fries?

In an effort to potentially steal some rivals’ customers, Taco Bell might add fries to the menu. The chain has tested limited-time items like nacho fries, but the latest effort is for forever fries. “People that go to lunch want to have French fries. We know that. So we’re looking at and testing bringing fries permanently on to the menu, which would increase our lunch business dramatically,” CEO Mark King said. (CNN) Not sure if that falls under “global fusion” or “cash grab.”