by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-industry

Feb 4 2020

The most trusted food brands: Really?

I am indebted to BakeryAndSnacks.com for this report on consumer [dis]trust of food products.

According to Morning Consult’s first annual State of Brand Trust report, more than half of Americans say they have little or no trust in corporate America and the country’s leadership.  In fact, Tom Hanks (34%) and Oprah (27%) are more trusted than either the US government (7%) or Wall Street (5%).  Fifty-four percent of consumers say they have little or no trust in corporations, while only 28% hold the same for the food and beverage industry.  But they do place conviction in brands like Cheerios, Oreos and Doritos.

The top five most trusted brands, according to this report, are the US Postal Service, Amazon, Google, Pay Pal and The Weather Channel.

As for foods:

The most trusted food brand was Chick-fil-A—ranking in sixth position—followed by Hershey in seventh spot, and Cheerios and M&Ms, No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

However, despite the high level of trust placed in food and beverage brands, the industry does have its work cut out for it, as only 17% of Americans say they trust food labels.

The mind boggles.  We are doomed.

Jan 30 2020

What’s Up? Women in the Food Business

This is a collection of articles from BakeryAndSnacks.com, a food industry newsletter, about attempts of food companies to engage women in their businesses.

Is this empowerment, or is it exploitation or marketing?  You decide.

Dec 11 2019

Food corporations recognize need to improve their practices: a glimmer of hope?

I have a subscription to Politico’s Morning Agriculture daily newsletter, an invaluable source of information about doings in Washington DC that I would not otherwise know about.

Politico’s business model usually blocks access to articles from non-subscribers, which makes it difficult to refer to articles that you will not be able to read for yourself.  Sometimes I can find other sources for the same information, but not always.

Nevertheless, I want to point you to two recent Politico articles about how food corporations are getting together to jointly try to improve their production and supply chain practices.

Chocolate companies

The first was about how three large chocolate firms— Mars Wrigley, Mondelēz and Barry Callebaut—have called on the European Union to promote sustainable cocoa production and to enact regulations that will stop environmental and human rights abuses in production.

According to Politico’s behind-a-paywall article,

The Commission declined to comment on the corporates’ move but officials are considering due diligence schemes, market controls and product labeling with a possibility of specific measures for commodities such as soy, palm oil and beef.

Cocoa is a major driver of deforestation and human rights abuses, including child labor, in countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which together account for around two-thirds of global production.

Effects of agriculture on climate change

Politico, happily, released this magazine-length article titled “How a closed-door meeting shows farmers are waking up on climate change,” for open access.  It ought to win prizes for its author, Helena Bottemiller Evich.

In it, she describes how Big Ag companies, high-level US agricultural officials, and CEOs of major food companies are not only talking about climate change, but recognizing that they have to act to prevent it.

But that’s not all:

In Nebraska, farmers are exploring ways to reorient their farms to focus on rebuilding soil and sequestering carbon — a buzzy concept known as regenerative agriculture. In Florida, where rising sea levels are not a hypothetical discussion, farmers and ranchers have recently launched a working group to discuss climate change and how agriculture can help. Similar groups have cropped up in North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri and more states are expected to follow. In Iowa, faith leaders have been engaging farmers on the topic, hosting discussion groups in churches and building a network of farmers who are comfortable speaking publicly about climate change, whether it’s telling their story to reporters or 2020 Democratic candidates.

This is happening despite the politics of climate change.

Rural communities tend to be overwhelmingly Republican, which is one reason why talking about climate change has been politically taboo. It’s seen as a Democrat thing. Dig a little further, though, and the resistance runs much deeper than party politics. In many ways, climate change denial has become a proxy for rural Americans to push back against out-of-touch urbanites, meddlesome environmentalists and alarmist liberals who are seen as trying to impose their will on small towns and farming communities they do not understand.

Recognition of a problem is a necessary first step to getting it fixed.

Many of these companies are increasingly recognizing they can’t meet their goals without significant changes to farming practices at the base of their supply chains.

Yes!

This article is worth reading in its entirety.  It offers glimmers of hope that Big Ag and Big Food will change their practices and embrace sustainability and regenerative agriculture.

Our job?  To push them to change and cheer them on when they do.

 

 

 

Nov 21 2019

Food industry in the Middle East—A Collection of Articles

The industry newsletter, FoodNavigator-Asia did a special edition on the food business in the Arabian Middle East:

Special Edition: Middle East Spotlight

Ahead of the region’s biggest food and beverage processing industry event, Gulfood Manufacturing, we shine the spotlight on the latest packaging and consumer trends that are driving innovation, while also assessing some of the major developments among the Middle East’s major brands.

Comment: My personal knowledge of the region is restricted to Dubai where, 15 years ago, nearly all food was imported (except dates, eggs, and some dairy), nearly all water was distilled from seawater (and, therefore, expensive), land almost entirely desert, and temperatures well into the 100s on most days—not exactly conducive to farming.

And they play rough over there:

Sep 17 2019

Natural Products Expo: all boxes checked

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore on Saturday and worth the trip it was.

Here is where to see—and taste—what’s happening in health foods: ultra-processed (drinks, crackers, puffs) and not (nut butters, smoked fish).

Impressions

This is a huge market: the exhibits took up three full floors of two buildings in the convention center.  I think I only managed to wander through about half of them.

The big news is hemp.  An entire section of one of the floors was devoted to CBD oils, pills, and balms, but hemp booths were also scattered throughout.  I didn’t see many edibles—just a few gummy bears.

The buzz words are “all boxes checked.”  I heard this many times.  My favorite example: hemp water (“hydrate your body to the fullest”).  Here’s its list:

  • All natural
  • No artificial flavors
  • No THC
  • No preservatives
  • Gluten free
  • Dairy free
  • Sugar free
  • Sodium free
  • Zero calories
  • Non-GMO
  • Vegan

Everyone wants to get into Whole Foods.  When I asked small producers where I could find their products, one after another said this.

Plant-based products are on the move.  I tried oat- and coconut-based ice creams (not bad, but still can’t compete with the 17% fat dairy versions, alas).

Aug 27 2019

Corporations will focus on social values? Really?

The Business Roundtable’s Statement (and see B Corporation Statement below)

The Business Roundtable, an organization of corporations, issued a statement last week—in a two-page advertisement with all the signatures in the Wall Street Journal, no less—that got this New York Times headline: Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say.

What?  This is some kind of joke, right?

I’ve been arguing for years that the Shareholder Value Movement, which forced corporations to single-mindedly focus on maximizing profits at the expense of every other societal value—attention to the welfare of workers, farm animals, public health, environmental protection—is responsible for just about everything that is wrong with our food system.

Corporations are now saying that they are committing to change that?

The Business Roundtable’s press release says that it is redefining the purpose of corporations to promote an economy that serves all Americans—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.   Here is its website with all the commitment info.

Its statement, signed by nearly 200 corporations, commits them to [with my comments]:

  • Delivering value to our customers [they aren’t already doing this?].
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits [this would indeed be a groundbreaking improvement].
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers [they weren’t doing this either?].
  • Supporting the communities in which we work [another excellent idea].
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders [isn’t this what they’ve been doing to the detriment of everything else?]

This sounds good, but how do they plan to solve the central dilemma?  How do they intend to pay workers decent wages, improve the communities in which they operate, and stop damaging the environment—and still maximize benefits for shareholders?

No surprise, they don’t say.

Also, as the Times noted,

There was no mention at the Roundtable of curbing executive compensation, a lightning-rod topic when the highest-paid 100 chief executives make 254 times the salary of an employee receiving the median pay at their company. And hardly a week goes by without a major company getting drawn into a contentious political debate. As consumers and employees hold companies to higher ethical standards, big brands increasingly have to defend their positions on worker pay, guns, immigration, President Trump and more.

I looked for food corporations among the signers (sorry if I missed any):

  • Aramark
  • Bayer (it owns Monsanto)
  • Coca-Cola
  • Land O’Lakes
  • PepsiCo
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Walmart

This is a small list.  Where, for example, are Mars, Nestlé, and Unilever?

I see this as flat out public relations, a response to increasing public distrust of corporate America and demands for corporate accountability.

If the signers mean business, let’s see them deal with workers’ wages right away.

Otherwise, I’m not holding my breath

The B Corporation Statement

And here’s more.  Sunday’s New York Times carried this advertisement from Certified B Corporations “meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”

The ad is addressed to Business Rountable CEOs.

We are part of a community of Certified B Corporations who are walking the walk of stakeholder capitalism…We operate with a better model of corporate governance—benefit corporate governance—which gives us, and could give you, a way to combat short-termism and the freedom to make decisions to balance profit and purpose.

Among its food company signers are Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Danone North America, King Arthur Flour, Sir Kensington’s, Stonyfield Organic, and Stumptown Coffee (there are others, as well).

I read this as a challenge: if the Business Rountable CEOs are serious about ensuring as B Corporations do, that “the purpose of capitalism is to work for everyone and for the long term,” why don’t they start by becoming B Corporations?

Until they do, the Business Roundtable statement is smoke and mirrors, to distract us from the damage the corporations are doing to our society and to our democratic institutions.

Aug 23 2019

Weekend reading: FoodNavigator-USA’s Special Edition on Meal Kits

If you have been reading FoodPolitics.com for long, you know that I love collections of industry newsletter columns on specific topics.  This one is on meal kits.  If you’ve never tried one, these are boxes of ingredients delivered to your door with recipes for what to do with them.

I’m not a user.  I tried two different kinds.   I have to admit that they cooked up into delicious meals.  But, I could not believe the number of bowls and pots I needed to make them, the enormous mess I had to clean up, and the piles of packaging that I had to throw out.

With that said, some of them are doing pretty well, and some are trying new things, according to these articles from FoodNavigator-USA’s terrific writers.

Special Edition: What’s for dinner tonight? The meal kit (r) evolution

Meal kit brands have tapped into a consumer need, but some have struggled to build a viable business model, with subscription based home delivery firms finding it hard to retain customers, and retailers finding it hard to manage shrink on in-store meal kits. The rapid growth of services from GrubHub to UberEats enabling consumers to order pre-prepared food for delivery in 20 minutes without a subscription has also presented consumers with options that didn’t exist when many meal kit brands got started. So where does the market go from here?

Aug 14 2019

The world’s most valuable food brands? In a nutshell.

One small table says it all.

For the record, I’m not related to the top ranked company.