Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The changes in food habits caused by the coronavirus over the past four months are starting to have an impact – growers can no longer rely on predictable consumption trends when making planting decisions. One big winner has been Canadian durum wheat as the surge in pasta, flour and cereal purchases pushed prices to a three-year high. The situation was compounded by bad weather and a drop in output in Europe and North Africa. A Canadian industry member noted that as a result, “If you eat couscous in Casablanca, you’re probably eating Saskatchewan durum wheat.”

Not every product has benefited from the shift in consumer demand, however. Meat, cheese and butter, for example, tend to be used much more in restaurants than in home cooking. In California, a farmer was forced to destroy his lettuce crop because of the drop in restaurant demand. But restaurateurs are not giving up on their business model and are looking for new systems to adapt. Some are combining the concept of ghost kitchens – restaurants that only serve for delivery – with outdoor food halls to create “ghost food halls”. 

For the moment, online delivery continues to be the most obvious alternative in times of social distancing. In China, Starbucks expanded its partnerships with Alibaba to allow more consumers the option to pre-order drinks via mobile apps. But the surge in online orders is starting to have an impact on online prices which have gone up 4.2% over the last six months, data from Adobe Inc showed. The inflation pushed digital purchasing power into negative numbers for the first time. 

Many firms are also hitting a limit on capacity, like Campbell Soup which is facing manufacturing challenges after the demand for ready-to-eat soup surged 140%. One solution we mentioned last week has been to reduce the number of products on offer. Nestle announced that it was looking to sell its water business in China. The company previously said it might sell water brands in North America and the Chinese Yinlu Foods business. Similarly, Coca-Cola said it would stop selling what the CEO calls “zombie brands”, starting with Odwalla juices. For its part, Pepsi was able to weather the coronavirus downturn in the second quarter thanks to its wider product diversification, as it also owns Quaker Oats Company and Frito-Lay. 

The recent surge in online shopping and the simplification of product ranges were actually part of an ongoing long-term shift in the food supply, according to the experts at IDEO. As such, the coronavirus is not really “new information. It’s more of a reveal”, a consultant argued. The pandemic is also accelerating other ongoing changes, like the focus on regional food and farmers’ markets, along with a growing concern for working conditions in the food industry. 

The virus has highlighted the risks of animal diseases spreading to humans and the need to protect wildlife, according to a director at Danone. He suggested that our current system was “broken” although he was optimistic that shareholders and consumers would embrace a new approach based on sustainability. Danone was the first firm to entrench environmental laws in its official rules based on a 2019 French law. 

Cargill has also been busy reducing the impact of its operations around the world. In northeast Brazil, it has partnered with the Omega windfarm to supply port terminals in Bahia and Para with renewable energy. Cargill also unveiled a new water management practice to help make agriculture more regenerative. And in Zanzibar, Cargill is partnering with the Nature Conservancy to provide guidelines for algae farmers. When done correctly, algae farming can have a positive impact on water quality and wildlife habitat, a spokesperson highlighted. 

KFC is making progress on its effort to offer more meat alternatives as it announced that it will collaborate with Russia’s 3D Bioprinting Solutions to print chicken meat using cells and plant material. Although more environmentally friendly, the final chicken will still contain meat. Meanwhile, KFC’s fully plant-based fried chicken is being offered in more restaurants across the US. The chicken is made by Beyond Meat. 

In the same vein, Burger King is advertising beef made from cows that emit 33% less methane, thanks to the introduction of lemongrass in their diet. While the idea of modifying a cow’s diet to lower methane emissions has shown promising results, experts noted that the Burger King claim was not yet backed by peer-reviewed science. The move was still welcomed, however, as Burger King starts by accepting that “we are part of the problem”. 

Lastly this week, we recommend watching the “fascinating but useless” experiment conducted by an Australian marathon runner. He ate only tinned beans for the 40 days leading up to a 50km ultra-marathon. Besides showing his love for beans, the experiment was most revealing as it deprived him of a source of creative expression. It also gave him terrible wind, obviously. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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