Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Meat packers in the US are investing millions to accelerate the automation of plants. The CEO of JBS, the world’s biggest meat processor, explained that labour shortages have been an ongoing issue for the industry even before the pandemic, but current health and safety issues have been an accelerator. A food scientist told Deep Dive that some of the challenges, however, include the need for robots to be able to distinguish colours. Besides, animals have significant “biological variations,” meaning that two chicken can have different wing sizes, something which is very difficult for robots to handle. To make sure they don’t miss out on any new technology, Cargill’s Protein and Animal Health said they are working closely with innovators in Silicon Valley. 

Taking it a step further, Tyson obtained a waiver from the USDA allowing it to use its own staff and a system of cameras and computers to partially replace federal inspectors at its beef plant in Kansas. The USDA already eased inspections in the poultry and pork sectors over the past few years, with an analyst telling Reuters that this would allow inspectors to focus on more complicated issues like animal welfare and food safety. Some activists warn, however, that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show foodborne diseases are on the rise.

Tyson also rolled out infrared body temperature scanners at all of its plants to slow the coronavirus spread. On the other hand, two whistleblowers have accused JBS of making employees without health insurance pay USD 100 for a COVID-19 test. A legal expert argued that the company should have covered the costs.  

A failed trial by Walmart suggests that not all automation is useful. The company announced it would stop using the autonomous shelf-scanning robots it had been trying out for the past 3 years to monitor inventory.  Walmart said that the robots were awkward for shoppers and that they were not adapted to the massive shift to online shopping. While this may be good news in terms of jobs, the CEO of Unilever warned that the worst of the economic impact of the pandemic is yet to be felt. He urged companies to invest in upgrading the skills of their workers to anticipate massive job losses. 

Nestle bought the remaining stake in meal delivery company Freshly last week for USD 950 million and a potential USD 550 million earnout. Freshly is currently delivering over 1 million meals every week, which should increase threefold following the acquisition. An analyst said that Freshly will allow Nestle to deliver more of its products directly to consumers, a growing trend across the industry. 

ADM, meanwhile, identified five major food trends as the world adjusts to the pandemic. It found that consumers are increasingly looking for nutrition which is good for both “the body and mind,” notably with a focus on nutrients that are good for digestion. Sustainability and transparency are also a growing concern, ADM noted. 

Major beverage companies are in a race to design a paper bottle that can replace the existing plastic bottles. Coca-Cola announced its first paper bottle prototype, although it still contains a liner and closure made from recycled plastic. It is now working on a prototype that doesn’t have the plastic liner. The company, as well as competitors like Pepsi, hope to roll out paper bottles next year. The timing is right: scientists in Australia estimate that there is 14.4 million mt of microplastics at the bottom of the seas, twice as much plastic as there is on the oceans’ surface. One researcher explained that “The deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,” all of which risked showing up further down in our food chain. 

The Michelin Guide, too, recognised the importance of a sustainable food supply chain when it launched the Michelin Green Star back in June. Some seven chefs have already been awarded for their “sustainable gastronomy.” In France, however, chefs are warning that the new lockdown measures could drastically transform the country’s culinary landscape as standalone establishments struggle to cope and threaten to close. France’s gastronomic heritage needs to be protected by UNESCO, one of the chefs argued.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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