Wrapping up a year we will never forget, we offer many thanks to you for subscribing to Friday by Noon and other Bader Rutter analysis throughout 2020. Despite it being difficult on so many levels, we’re grateful for the opportunity to document 2020 week by week and to “distill” how food and agriculture handled this turbulent, unpredictable year. The lessons for food production this year involved adaptability and resilience, and we’ve been regularly inspired by the many ways the industry came together to address so many simultaneous challenges.

We’ll be back in January and look forward to an eventful 2021. Many challenges remain, but we’re confident our industry will persevere. And thrive. Till then, we wish all of you the merriest and the happiest.

In this edition, you’ll find:

  • The pandemic, encapsulated in seven recent perspectives.
  • Year-end holiday sentiments, and industry outlooks for ’21.

“It has been a tough year, but consumers can’t wait to experience the hospitality, creativity, and trends that they expect from the food industry in 2021.”

Mike Kostyo, Datassential (LinkedIn)

Checking all the Boxes

All of the major themes involving how the coronavirus pandemic impacted food production played out this week.

  • Hunger: Food insecurity comprised a major section of a December 8 PBS/Frontline report on poverty in America. One datapoint cited an estimated 16% of Americans report not having enough food.
  • Workers: Meatingplace editor-in-chief Lisa Keefe described a joint effort between major meat industry groups, urging governors to prioritize vaccinations for processing plant workers.
  • Restaurants: Nation’s Restaurant News reporter Jim Sullivan interviewed three full-service restaurateurs who weighed in on “quick pivots, resiliency and what ‘normalcy’ really means now.”
  • Delivery: Eater’s Amanda Kludt commented harshly about DoorDash and its recent $66 billion IPO: “It’s a company that exploits the vulnerabilities of gig workers, gouges its restaurant partners, preys upon restaurants that aren’t partners, and subverts government regulations.” No, she’s not a fan.
  • Relief: As a relief bill teeters on completion (or not), the National Grocers Association reiterated priorities for frontline food businesses and workers: unemployment compensation, family medical leave, loan forgiveness, nutrition program increases and liability protection.
  • New Products: Unforeseen market conditions have not slowed investment in new foodservice and retail products. Food Business News maintained its documenting of new products, such as Nestlé’s Freshly Fit meal kits.
  • New Administration: Discussions continued to address what a Biden administration means to food production. Of particular focus is Biden’s pick for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. While most industry groups have welcomed Vilsack back, some outlets, such as rural-focused Daily Yonder questioned whether the “old guard” will challenge the “corporate grip” on ag. Time will tell.

That’s a Wrap-up

It’s that time of year when our inboxes and feeds get flooded with holiday wrap-ups, end-of-year retrospectives and predictions for the year to come. Our annual report, out in January, will deliver the master list of lists, but here’s a sneak peek at what’s brewing:

  • Food companies and industry groups alike reflected on the need to give back to their communities in the wake of the pandemic. Hunger saw the most attention, from the hard-hit pork industry pulling together its “Give-a-Ham” campaign to grocery chain Albertsons donating $14 million to anti-hunger efforts.
  • For a look at 2020 web trends, Google published its annual “Year in Search” report and TikTok highlighted popular topics and creators on its platform. The two only shared one common food & bev item: whipped coffee.
  • Covering 2020’s hottest menu items, Nation’s Restaurant News compiled “The year in fried chicken sandwiches.”
  • Outgoing Sen. Chuck Grassley reflected on the challenges agriculture faced during the pandemic.
  • Green Biz looked at larger sourcing trends that continued despite the pandemic.
  • New Hope Media interviewed CEOs who predicted plant-based protein and transparency will continue to gain traction in food production.
  • Instacart and Supermarket News offered different angles on the future of grocery sales.

“Outside of Michelin-starred restaurants, few menus are as hotly debated as public school lunches.”

Tim McDonnell, Climate Reporter, Quartz

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Cafeteria Climate Change

Quartz climate reporter Tim McDonnell shared a report that examined the effect U.S. school lunch requirements have on climate. The study, conducted by nutritionists at Harvard University and published in Health Affairs, suggested that “National School Lunch Program (NSLP) menus disproportionately over-provide the most carbon-intensive foods, relative to EAT recommendations.” (Ref: 2018 EAT-Lancet report that recommended a diet prioritizing both human and planetary health.)

Digitizing the Food Value Chain

In Food Dive, René Lammers, PepsiCo’s executive vice president and chief science officer, challenged “peer companies” to embrace digitization in order to “transform and impact every link in the food value chain including agriculture, processing, packaging and purchasing — enabling us to be more prepared and ready to face future challenges.”

If It Looks Like a Pig …

On December 14, the FDA announced its first approval of a genetically modified animal for food and medical purposes. The first-of-its-kind intentional genomic alteration (IGA) in “GalSafe” pigs helps to eliminate alpha-gal sugar production, which causes allergic reactions in some people. However, The Counter noted that the approval has been met with some scrutiny that other allergy concerns and environmental consequences were not thoroughly addressed.

Been Caught Stealing

The Washington Post reported on a consequence of widespread hunger as the coronavirus pandemic continues: “Shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began in the spring and at higher levels than in past economic downturns, according to interviews with more than a dozen retailers, security experts and police departments across the country. But what’s distinctive about this trend, experts say, is what’s being taken — more staples like bread, pasta and baby formula.”

Floating, Stinging, etc.

A December 15 New York Times article outlined how the monarch butterfly, a key pollinator for many crops, qualified as an endangered species, but will not receive official certification or protection even as other species got priority. On the same day, USDA outlined the latest developments in its Bee Better certification program, which is available to retailers and brands to certify “the use of pollinator-friendly conservation practices on farms.”