Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed the efforts by the food and agricultural sector to expand internationally and fight for open markets, according to a survey of EU firms. It revealed that 90% of companies surveyed kept their plans to expand or at least maintain their market presence in the short-to-medium term. About 57% said they would concentrate on their core business. 

In the same vein, Olam mentioned that it has successfully implemented parts of its reorganisation plan in the first half of the year, as it reported strong results despite the pandemic. Olam International Limited​ closed its sugar, rubber and fertiliser desks, while Olam Global Agri​ saw good results in grains origination and merchandising. 

Some vulnerabilities in the global food supplies were made clear with the pandemic, however, and some cities are hoping to solve the issue with vertical hydroponic farms. Unfold, a joint venture between Singapore’s Temasek and Bayer AG, was created to focus on seeds aimed at vertical farms to improve food security in metropoles. It could help Singapore reach its goal of producing 30% of its own food needs.

In the meantime, the popularity of plant-based meat continues its impressive rise, as Impossible Foods reported that demand for its grocery business increased by 60 times. To keep up, the group has been raising capital and secured USD 200 million in the latest round, which will go to increase capacity and research and development. Impossible Foods also partnered with the Know Your Rights Camp to help Black and Brown communities in the US. 

Engaging in social and political activism is fraught with risks, however, as many firms found out after sending out awkward or even hypocritical messages in the wake of the Black Live Matter movement. One food maker stands out of the lot, as this Bloomberg cover piece highlighted, the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s. The key to its successful foray in social activism could be its decades of fighting for the environment, same-sex marriage and criminal justice reform. The 2000 acquisition by Unilever initially exposed a clash of culture, but Unilever is reportedly now taking inspiration from Ben & Jerry’s on how to react to the new conscious approach of shoppers. 

Ben & Jerry’s recent campaigning has not been welcomed by the UK government, however. The ice-cream maker tweeted at the interior minister criticising her for her comment that the UK will stop asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel. In response, a lawmaker said the comment was merely “statistically inaccurate virtue signalling”, while the Home Office called the brand “overpriced junk food”.

A less risky venture for agricultural business for now remains the fight to protect the environment. The Coalition of Action on Food Waste was launched this week, a consortium of 14 food producers and retailers, including Nestle and Walmart. The group will look at standardising date labels, better reporting of food loss data and partnerships with existing frameworks like the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Chinese government also joined the fight against food waste by launching the “Clean Plate Campaign“. Nonetheless, the similar “Operation Empty Plate” launched in 2013 was not a great success as observers noted that empty plates are a Chinese cultural sign that not enough food was served. 

Another unlikely ally in the fight against food waste is the coronavirus. An analysis based on interviews found that British citizens had significantly reduced the amount of food they wasted because of a growing concern over the availability of food and fewer grocery runs. Other nations found similar patterns, while some suggested that the unemployment crisis and frugality could further the trend. Environmentalists welcomed the news as food waste is responsible for 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Some clever technological innovations can help address the issue, such as the plant-based edible film developed by Apeel Sciences which can help reduce avocado waste by 50%. Edeka and Netto supermarkets in Germany are now testing the solution, which acts as a barrier to retain moisture and slow oxidation, with avocados and citrus. 

Another promising discovery published this week was the successful cultivation of basil and spinach under semi-transparent tinted solar panels. The solar panels provide shelter and filter through red light which boosts the plant’s ability to photosynthesise. This method could pave the way for a merging of electricity and food production into something called agrivoltaics. 

Lastly this week, Unilever’s Good Humor ice cream distributor found an ingenious solution when it realised that a jingle used by ice cream trucks, called Turkey in the Straw, has a strong racist history. In response, Good Humor partnered with RZA, the leader of the legendary hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, to develop a new tune which you can enjoy here.  

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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