Food production reported mixed success this week. Major producers and brands showed signs of progress on the responsibility and infrastructure fronts, while farms revealed some challenges to animal health.

  • ESG progress reports fill corporate press releases.
  • A building boom sweeps big-name food production.
  • Avian flu returns just in time for Thanksgiving.

Corporate Responsibility Check-in

As 2030 draws ever closer, some brands are publicisizing the progress they’re making toward their environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments. Promoting their sustainability efforts has proven much easier for companies to navigate than socio-political events. For instance, Starbucks found itself in a legal battle with one of its unions over stances on the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict (The Associated Press). More to come …

  • General Mills partnered with Walmart to “accelerate the adoption of regenerative agriculture on 600,000 acres in the U.S. by 2030.” This retailer joined forces with PepsiCo for a similar project in July.
  • Costco Wholesale committed to reducing plastic use — and boosting transparency around its 5-year plan. Janet Domenitz of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group commented: “Consumers across the country are ready to move beyond plastic, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid unless the stores we shop at hold the same values.”
  • United Natural Foods (UNFI) deployed several electric semi-trucks and “regenerative electric refrigerated trailer systems” as part of its goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.
  • Feedstuffs covered poultry giant Perdue Farms’ Animal Care Summit, where the company discussed chicken housing enrichments and “No Antibiotics Ever” production practices.
  • Commodities giant Cargill celebrated the conversion of its palm oil supply chain to be 100% certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The achievement is a much-needed win for the company’s deforestation-free goals, even as its beef sourcing policies have been contested by activist group ClientEarth.
  • Agri-Pulse associate editor Steve Davies observed that large companies operating in California will soon follow ESG standards whether they want to or not. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law on October 7 that will require full disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions for any company with more than $1 billion in revenue.

A New Cheesecake Factory, and More

For the most part, growth is the name of the game in the food and beverage sectors. Judging by the amount of new openings and expansion across the nation, business seems to be booming. Meatpackers haven’t shared the same fortunes.

  • Eli’s Cheesecake, inventor of “Chicago-style” cheesecake, celebrated the completion of a 42,000-square-foot addition to its facility in the Chicago suburbs, nearly doubling its size. The expansion, valued at $10 million, was supported by various grants and tax incentives. 
  • Over on the (not so) sunny part of the West Coast, SunOpta expanded its Omak, Washington plant, which nearly doubled the output of the facility with a new fruit snack production line. 
  • New York Post editor Zachary Kussin outlined key points from his day at the grand opening of the long-awaited Wegmans Manhattan location. Buy their chocolate chip cookies. You’re welcome.
  • Walmart announced a new milk processing facility, which will add 400 jobs in Georgia, and opened its largest fulfillment center (1.5 million square-feet) in Dallas.
  • Food distributor Sysco held a ground-breaking event for a 353,600-square-foot distribution center in Arizona.
  • Over in the meat industry, some companies aren’t so lucky. Between them, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods closed three plants in southern Missouri and North Carolina, impacting more than 2,300 employees. 
  • Following Tyson’s decision to close its southern Missouri plants, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey wrote to Tyson to emphasize how this will affect local communities and highlight the devastating impact on the local economy. The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick Thomas expanded on the topic.
  • Looking up, Sustainable Beef broke ground on a 500,000-square-foot plant in North Platte, Nebraska, which is expected to process 1,500 cattle per day, employ 875 workers and have a $1 billion economic impact on the local economy. This continues the trend of smaller processors securing funding from state and federal funds.

Bawk With a Vengeance

After a quiet summer, avian influenza outbreaks have again struck poultry operations in several U.S. states and half a dozen other countries. So far, turkey producers have been the hardest hit.

  • Bird flu infects commercial US poultry flock for first time since April | Reuters
  • Five states report more avian flu outbreaks in poultry flocks | University of Minnesota
  • Turkey prices could fall as Thanksgiving nears, but bird flu reemergence threatens flocks | Food Dive
  • These Gene-Edited Chickens Were Made to Resist Bird Flu | WIRED
  • How Do You Fight Bird Flu in France? Vaccinate 64 Million Ducks. | The New York Times
  • Poland, EU’s biggest poultry producer, reports bird flu outbreak | Reuters
  • South Africa culls about 7.5 million chickens in an effort to contain bird flu outbreaks | The Associated Press

“But the truth is ‘scathing report finds fault with the FDA’ is just not a new story. … if something that [Walter Cronkite] reported on is still an issue, you know you’ve got a problem.”

John Oliver on 55 years of FDA inspection shortfalls (YouTube)

Worth Reading

The ‘F’ in FDA Is for ‘Funny’

In the October 16 edition of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, comedian/host John Oliver focused on food safety in the U.S., discussing FDA statistics that an estimated 46 million Americans experience foodborne illness every year, of them 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Oliver suggested, “Our food safety system, particularly the Food and Drug Administration which oversees most of it has some serious shortcomings.” Worth noting: James Jones started his tenure as head of the agency’s recently formed human foods program on September 25.

Permit Renting Runs Rampant

Despite New York City Council passing a law in 2021 mandating the release of 445 new food cart permits each year, the New York Times reported that more than 10,000 vendors are currently on the city’s permit waiting list. As of mid-September, only 14 new permits have been issued in 2023, leading thousands of vendors to illegally rent licenses from permit owners at significantly higher costs. Turns out, the American Dream can be an expensive nightmare.

Trust the Process?

Ultra-processed foods have gotten a bad rap lately, drawing criticism from research institutions like Tufts and Harvard. However, a survey featured in Food Ingredients First indicated that U.S. shoppers — especially millennials and Gen Z — are open to not only trying healthier ultra-processed foods, but also paying more for them. 

Convenient Cravings and Siphonings

With fast food being more easily accessible than ever, QSR revealed that speed, accuracy and customer service can significantly impact satisfaction at the drive-thru. While the study recognized Taco Bell for delivering the quickest drive-thru experience, Chick-fil-A topped the charts in terms of customer service and order accuracy. In other Chick-fil-A news, thieves have siphoned off nearly 800 gallons of used cooking oil from an Athens, Georgia, location. USA Today reports that the miscreants’ haul has a street value of roughly $2,000 and that the 200-300 gallons of fry oil was carted off in a U-Haul box truck before it could be recycled. Apparently, the criminals average roughly four strikes per month.

Nostalgia Meets Gastronomy

Perhaps the only thing better than eating your favorite fast-food meals is getting to enjoy them all in one place. Food & Wine announced that Los Angeles will host ChainFEST, an event featuring classic dishes from Panda Express, Pizza Hut, Dunkin’ and other QSR giants. The two-day celebration also will showcase exclusive menu items from Michelin-starred chef Tim Hollingsworth. Indulging in familiar eats while trying out new twists on old classics? Where do we sign up?