Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Michelin has been accused of “greenwashing” with its restaurant guide’s new sustainable gastronomy award. The chef of Michelin star restaurant Relae in Denmark complained it had been awarded the label without any independent audit being conducted. Environmentalists added that the label was vague and without any clear requirements. To top it off, some were quick to point out the irony of a tire company handing out sustainability awards. 

In any case, the traditional concept of restaurant dining could be on its way out. A deep-dive by The Counter looked at US data which, although confusing, pointed to the increasing number of restaurants closing down every year. While this is partly because more restaurants are opening up in the first place, with the chef and restaurateur culture becoming increasingly cool, it is mainly due to new eating habits. People either prefer to order in or eat on the go. As such, venture capital is being poured into so-called “cloud kitchens” that only cater to deliveries. 

The water bottle industry, too, could be facing significant changes going forward. In Washington, the Senate approved a bill banning new permits for water bottling operations and other states, such as Maine and Michigan, are looking to follow suit. Congress has set up an oversight committee to look into the operations of the bottled water industry, under which Nestle has been asked to submit data on sales, water extraction and the amount of plastic used, among other things. 

Nestle announced a USD 700 million investment to “meet the nutritional needs of Mexicans.” Under the plan, its 17 factories in Mexico will be upgraded to focus on products that either have lower sugar and fat content or are fortified with vitamins and probiotics, among other wellness food and beverage products. It will open a new coffee plant too but it hopes to offset the carbon emissions from that factory by planting 3 million trees in Mexico and Brazil within the next 18 months. 

In Australia, Nestle tied up with recycling company iQ Renew to collect and recycle soft plastics from homes. The trial will include around 2,000 homes with the aim of reaching 100,000 by the end of the year. Similarly, Unilever said it was working on creating a market for recycled plastics in Australia and New Zealand. It aims to use half as many new plastics and collect more than it uses by 2025. McDonald’s announced it was phasing out plastic cutlery by the end of the year and replacing it with fibre-based cutlery. The timing is probably good because 10 of the major food and beverage companies are being sued in the US by Earth Island Institute for their use of single-use plastics. The organisation hopes that the companies will be forced to clean up and recycle. Besides, supermarkets, in Australia and elsewhere, are worried they might eventually run out of food packaging because of the supply disruption out of China due to the coronavirus. 

Olam reported a net profit of SGD 313 million (USD 225 million) for Oct-Dec, four times as much as the previous year, thanks to divestments as well as better performance in several segments, such as coffee and grains. This brought the total 2019 net profit to SGD 564 million (USD 405 million), up 62% on year. The CEO said the group’s exposure to the new coronavirus and China was limited but added that it had affected consumption on a global scale, causing lower prices across commodities. In Nigeria, Olam is investing in tomato farming and finding better seeds. In Indonesia, it agreed to sell its 50% stake in Indonesian sugar refinery Far East Agri to Mitr Phol as part of its strategy to exit the sugar market. 

In Brazil, meat producers JBS and Marfrig have been accused of sourcing cattle from a farmer who murdered people trying to protect the Amazon forest in 2017. This is the emerging part of a much bigger issue known as “cattle laundering.” While the likes of JBS say they do everything they can to check that their direct suppliers are not involved in deforestation, the indirect suppliers are able to go around these checks by selling their cattle to companies that are vetted to supply directly. 

In the UK, meanwhile, a study found that the anti-meat lobby is contributing to growing mental health issues among livestock farmers. Part of the problem, however, is that meat farmers are stuck between shaming on platforms such as social media and pressure from big supermarkets to provide cheap meat. Greenpeace argued that livestock farmers should not be blamed. On the contrary, they should be helped to switch to farming something else. In the same vein, the European Commission is looking into its subsidy system designed to help promote agricultural products. It faced a backlash after data showed that EUR 60 million (USD 67 million) had been spent over three years to subsidise the marketing of meat products. 

Finally, Belgian researchers are taking the quest to replace dairy products to a new level. They are testing using larva fat to replace butter in bakery products. Apparently it tastes exactly the same. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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