Consumer packaged goods made news this week, both for their package sizes and ingredients, even as consumers want more information about what’s in what they eat. What food business news is making you read beyond the headlines?
The Rainforest Action Network is calling on PepsiCo and other large food companies (known as the “snack food 20,” according to activists) to more carefully track their use of palm oil, citing poor treatment of farmers and deforestation by some palm oil companies. “Palm oil is in nearly half of what we buy — from lipstick and soaps to instant noodles and cookies. It’s also used in diesel fuel. Palm oil accounted for one-tenth of the world’s permanent cropland in 2010, and the industry is rapidly expanding.”
Palm oil may also be filling in for the loss of coconut oil production. Global demand for coconut water has increased so much that there are not enough mature coconuts to go around for coconut oil production.
Meanwhile, several snack and fast food companies seem to be discouraging consumers from overindulging in their products. “Burgers are shrinking, cookies are becoming thinner and package sizes are getting smaller…. In at least one case, a company is telling customers to cut back on its more indulgent foods. Mars, maker of M&Ms and Uncle Ben's rice, said earlier this month that it would start labeling some of its products to indicate that they should only be eaten occasionally, due to being higher in sugar, salt or fat.”
But do you really think that will make a difference? When was the last time you followed directions on a package…especially if the package contained a Snicker’s bar?
In other snack-related news, can you imagine a s’more with meat in place of chocolate? Happily you don’t have to. But Hershey IS getting into the meat business, with a plan to sell “Krave” bars made of dried meat enhanced with fruit and other flavors. “Hershey bills the new offerings as an effort to keep up with Americans’ changing tastes. But some see the move as an attempt by a candy company — whose iconic brands are now on the wrong side of what many consumers want — to attract more consumers.”
Whoa, wait a minute. Wasn't there a move to lower meat consumption in favor of plant-based diets? Will the move to eat meat in new places offset the move to decrease meat in the old places?
What if you couldn’t trust the ingredients in some of the food you buy? What if the companies that made the food were substituting substandard or even toxic components? It would make your weekly grocery trip feel a little scarier, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly the scenario many Chinese consumers are finding themselves in, says Ashok Jacob, chairman and chief investment officer of Ellerston Capital funds management in a speech to the Global Food Forum in Australia earlier this month. “The Chinese food consumer has lost confidence in the supply chain,” Jacob said, adding that China has reached a “tipping point” in its lack of confidence in its food supply chain “that really hasn’t happened anywhere else in the world.”
Food safety concerns aren’t new, but China has brought them to a new level, simply because it produces so much food. How do we feel about the Chinese purchase of an American food company, such as Smithfield Foods in 2013? Do concerns about Chinese food safety contaminate companies that the Chinese have acquired?
Target is developing a scanner that could take some of the mystery out of what we eat. The machine is a prototype of what the retail giant hopes will tell consumers everything they could want to know about their food. “We know less about the food we eat today than in any other time in history,” said Greg Shewmaker, Target’s entrepreneur-in-residence.
How much knowledge about our do we really want? Seems that Target and the grocery industry are waiting to see how much and how often we want to know about who grew our tomato.