Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Over the past few months, shippers have been rushing back containers to China to capture the high premium, resulting in a shortage of containers elsewhere and crops destined for export piling up. The head of Hapag-Lloyd said this week “the charter ship market is, at the moment, basically sold out.” Some exporters are switching to shipping in bulk as a result which is causing freight rates to soar and could result in more expensive food. Bloomberg added that China’s Covid customs clearance processes were exacerbating the situation by causing delays at ports and a piling up of cold containers waiting to be cleared. 

Chinese customs defended themselves, saying that checks at exporting countries were insufficient which increased the need for safety procedures on arrival. Customs officials said they had tested 1.3 million items as of mid-January and found 47 items positive with the virus. The China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said the number of contaminated items was increasing, a sign that China should continue to follow strict procedures. 

A Chinese shipping analyst argued that the main issue was the slow pace at which containers were coming back to China due to lower port efficiency in other countries, and notably the US, as a result of Covid measures. He expects that the shortage will continue until Mar-Apr.  

An official at the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said China’s buying spree was pushing up food prices and exacerbating the risks of hunger in import-dependent countries. The situation is made worse by countries limiting exports, such as Russia, which could spook other countries into following suit. The WFP had said back in November that it was struggling to source food for humanitarian aid. As a result, and following a suggestion from Singapore, some 53 WTO member countries agreed last week to facilitate the export of food for non-commercial humanitarian purposes. 

A bioeconomist in Belgium warned that the Covid-led trend to prioritise locally sourced food was not necessarily better for the environment. She argued that the pandemic had shown that our supply chain was, in fact, “very robust” as there were very few food supply issues in Europe. Besides, she explained that it would take twice as much land to consume only local livestock and that local products tend to be more expensive and therefore less accessible to the poorer section of the population. 

While a big chunk of China’s crop buying is going to feed its growing hog population, the CEO of plant-based meat maker Impossible Foods said he was committed to substituting every animal product currently in use. The company announced a 15% price reduction at the wholesale level in the US in a bid to become more competitive. Future Meat said it managed to reduce the price of a quarter-pound serving of its cultured chicken breast to USD 7.50, down “1,000 times over the last three years.” A family pack of Impossible Burger ground beef still costs USD 65, meanwhile. 

Beyond the cost, the taste of meat alternatives continues to be an issue. Impossible Foods uses genetically modified (GM) ingredients, notably soy leghemoglobin, to replicate the taste and feel of meat, some of which have not been cleared by countries like the UK. Future Meat tackles the problem differently by using both cultured meat and plant-based ingredients, or what it calls the “best of both worlds.” It also makes its own cultured fat to avoid using palm oil or having to add a lot of salt. 

The world of luxury dining won’t be left behind with Michelin-starred restaurant Disfrutar tying up with Novameat to create the world’s “biggest cell-based meat prototype.” The Counter said it looked like “an ottoman” but you can decide for yourself here

An analysis on Seeking Alpha argued that Danone’s core dairy business was at risk due to the exponential growth of the plant-based market. Oat milk company Oatly, which saw a sales growth of almost 100% in 2020, is taking on the challenge of converting the sceptics. The company identified middle-aged men as most unlikely to switch to a plant based diet and put together a provocative and humorous ad campaign called ‘Help Dad’ to get the younger generation to push them to make the switch. 

This comes at a time when research by Euromonitor showed that consumers increasingly want to buy products from brands whose values they are aligned with. In the same vein, in the US, Coca-Cola announced it would withhold up to 30% of its legal fees from law firms that do not have the minimum diversity requirements. The group’s global general counsel said that good intentions were no longer enough. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU


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