Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Authorities in Singapore announced that they are launching an investigation into statements by the Noble Group that are suspected to be false and non-compliant between 2012 and 2016. The scale of the investigation is unprecedented which is why the government took so long to respond to claims made by a former employee almost four years ago, although experts note that the investigation could proceed very quickly. The group was reportedly surprised by the timing of the investigation as it was rushing to finalise a USD 3.5 billion debt restructuring deal before a November 27 deadline. Investigators conceded that the probe could delay the plan, which would put the whole proposal at stake and potentially threaten the survival of the group who noted that the only alternative would be to file for insolvency.

The world’s major food companies have been involved in acquisitions worth USD 128.7 billion this year so far and show no signs of slowing down. Sources reported that Mondelez was looking to purchase Australia’s Arnott’s Biscuits and Denmark’s Kelsen Group, both biscuit makers. And four months after announcing that it was planning to sell its international and fresh food segments, Campbell Soup has drawn interest from Pacific Equity Partners and Kraft Heinz in bids that could reach USD 3 billion. Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz said it would sell its malted milk drink segment in India as demand is slowing shifting away from the high-sugar content drink that was originally marketed as a health drink. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) also said it was selling its malt-drink business in the country, with both Unilever and Nestle reportedly interested in a takeover with bids estimated at USD 3.1-3.5 billion.

India is a key market for Nestle, its CEO told reporters during a roundtable organised this week. He also highlighted that the firm learnt the importance of reacting quickly in the age of social media when the Indian government decided to ban the sales of Maggi Noodles because of concerns that they contained too much lead. The firm was eventually cleared, he noted, although it had to destroyed 30,000mt of noodles and never recovered its market share. Public concern is currently working against Nestle in Michigan, as campaigners criticised a new ad campaign which focuses on the free bottles delivered by Nestle to local residents. Activist highlight that Nestle only pays USD 200/year per plant to extract water in the state, while it was recently allowed to increase its extraction rate from 250gal/min to 400gal/min.

In California, voters overwhelmingly voted in favour of a new law that increases the minimum size of cages used for breeding pigs and calves, ignoring the comments by food producers who warned that prices will increase as a result. California will also ban the sale of products within the state if they do not meet the new standards, which is concerning producers around the country – and around the world – who now face higher costs if they want to compete. To complicate matters further, a study by the USDA, Michigan State and Iowa State showed that larger cages do not necessarily mean healthier animals, as hens were found to be twice as likely to die when given more space than the current convention.

White House policies are also grabbing the attention of major food producers, as Danone, Mars, Nestle and Unilever – all members of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance (SFPA) – urged the government not to replace the Clean Power Plan with weaker regulation. In their public comments, they argued that, on top of threatening the world’s food supply, climate change was bad for business. Sustainability is one of the three main criteria that is expected to trend in the food industry next year, according to Mintel research. Mintel also noted that consumers are now looking at the entire product lifecycle when assessing sustainability. The other two criteria were health and convenience.

In Europe, a petition with close to 100,000 signatures is urging the European Commission to vote in favour of phasing out biodiesel from palm oil in February 2019. Palm oil could also end up at the center of a battle between two Italian giant competing for chocolate spread supremacy. Barilla is reportedly planning to launch a new spread in January to compete with Ferrero’s Nutella, which currently controls 54% of the global market. Barilla will target Nutella’s use of palm oil and use only sunflower oil, on top of having 10% less sugar and hazelnuts made in Italy.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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