Food Chain News - May 9

Get ready for the Internet of Things... it's going to play a bigger role in new kinds of food systems. And speaking of trends, did you Google "turmeric" or "cauliflower rice" last year? So did millions of others. Now if we could just get food labels to cover everything we want to know. What food chain news caught your eye this week?

Image by Dometorres, used via Creative Commons.

Image by Dometorres, used via Creative Commons.

Has the acronym IoT entered your lexicon yet? For those not quite yet in the know, IoT = Internet of Things, a technology that’s playing a larger role in the food supply chain to track location, temperature, motion, pressure, light and other conditions in a product’s journey. Get a taste of the way it’s being used for strawberries.

The IoT may be a powerful game-changer for our food system. Think of a network of food producers, harvesters, processors, distributors, transporters and consumers, all connected on an integrated platform. The IoT may be about to transform food makers and consumers makers in the same powerful way as the Internet transformed computer power and data sharing. Now, people connect; soon, things will too. 

IoT is sure to be a hot topic at June’s Smart Cities Innovation conference in Austin. More than 200 city executives and teams, corporate and investment leaders, innovative technology companies, and government program managers will be on hand to address the interdependent needs of progressive urban communities and provide an opportunity to prospect and partner with innovative technology and service providers. Learn from the global community of city leaders, technology and solution providers, investors and innovators who are working together on IoT projects for the next generation of Smart City solutions.

How about really, really, really smart cities, that integrate food systems into the very infrastructure of a city? No more double-parked delivery trucks, dumpsters or abandoned pallets. 

When farm workers can’t get visas, crops don’t get harvested — or even planted, in some cases. And this year, the visa processing backlog is at an all-time high, according to Frank Gasperini, executive vice president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. “It’s critical. It’s going to cost a lot of people a lot of money this year. Congress needs to take action on our behalf, but I don’t see anything significant happening this year,” he said.

As long as we have labor-intensive agricultural practices, we’ll still need many hands to feed us. If we can’t attract Americans to harvest our food, let’s welcome all those who are honestly seeking work in American fields. There’s got to be a way to do this right. 

Labels such as organic and GMO have specific meanings, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But not so the term “natural.” That may be changing. The FDA will close a six-month period of public comments on the use of “natural” in food labeling on May 10. Stay tuned for any action in the wake of the feedback. And tell us what you'd like to see in food labels?

Food labeling has confused consumers for decades. A simple label, with a clear message about the origin and contents of our food would be refreshing. We’re flooded with nuanced labels, labels designed to promote different growing systems, to advocate for particular ethics or practices. Can we get through the interests and just label simply? 

As the ingredients endure further scrutiny, new questions continue to arise. For instance, why are vitamins and nutrients disappearing from non-GMO food?

This is wild. Turns out that processing food has made many nutrients digestible, in fact even desirable. We recommend that you read more about this; ready deeply and from diverse sources. 

Scrutiny on the health and well being of laying chickens has led many retailers to promise only cage-free eggs in their outlets in the coming years, and 7-Eleven stores are the latest to join that trend. The company aims to sell only cage-free eggs by 2025.

Every week we are seeing another major food producer change its ingredients and growing practices. The challenges for companies to find new sources must be mind-boggling. We’re off to find how how the new food sourcing map will look in 10 years. 

The explosion of options for any given meal — from “grocerants” (prepared food available at grocery stores) to food delivery services — has led to changes in how Americans, and members of different generations, choose to eat. The Why? Behind the Dine report “provides an update on diners’ path to the plate as the overall food industry has grown to an estimated $1.4 trillion in sales, driven by the emergence of new food and meal solutions.”

Interesting to see the two food narratives: one says we should all cook our own meals at home; the other says that consumers want ready-made meals delivered to our homes. Which is it? Who will prevail? The consumer or the home-cooked food advocate? 

Cauliflower rice became a food trend in the last two years, according to Google's search terms. This delicious bowl appears courtesy of The Daring Gourmet. 

Cauliflower rice became a food trend in the last two years, according to Google's search terms. This delicious bowl appears courtesy of The Daring Gourmet

Turmeric. Cauliflower rice. Vegan donuts. If you’ve searched for any of these terms lately, you’re REALLY not alone, according to Google’s recent food trend report, which measured searches between January 2014 and February 2016.

What drives us to find new foods and flavors? Boredom? Creativity? The need to boost sales? 

And as for what we don’t eat? Stop and Shop grocery stores are using the food waste — including the unopened packaging — from its 212 New England stores to generate energy to power its 1.1-million-square-foot distribution center

The next step is for us to use our own food waste to power our own homes. Why is this taking us so long to figure out?