Soybean and corn farmers in the US could be looking at a difficult year ahead. A recent study showed that average 2018 returns should turn out higher than the previous year, as excellent yields and early hedging mitigated the effects of the escalating trade war with China. However, farmers will likely bear the brunt of the trade war in 2019 with a forecast for negative margins if prices stay where they are. Brazil has benefitted, on the other hand, with soybean exports surging 23% in 2018, mainly due to demand from China. But corn exports dropped 18% because of the higher logistics costs as a result of the minimum truck rates implemented last year.
These high trucking rates are pushing Cargill, Bunge and ADM to look into buying their own trucks although they said they will wait until a decision from the Supreme Court in the hope the minimum rates are overturned. If the decision takes too long, Cargill said it would go ahead and get its own fleet, while other Brazilian giants, such as Amaggi, Coamo and meat producer JBS have already bought trucks. However, there could be a limit in terms of the production of trucks, and logistics experts pointed out that these fleets were mainly intended for emergencies and not to replace outsourcing. Truck logistics is a completely different business with significant operational and labour costs, an expert warned.
Another conflict taking a toll is that with Iran. Even though the sanctions don’t apply to food, Cargill, as well as Bunge, are among the trade houses that have halted exports to Iran amid payment difficulties. The trading groups used to be able to avoid US sanctions by using smaller banks – mostly based in the EU – but an Iranian official explained that these banks have closed down or have stopped dealing with the country under pressure from the US. Some 16 vessels are reportedly stuck at port unable to offload because of payment issues.
Separately, Cargill announced it would sell its global malt business to the French cooperative Axereal. The unit is composed of 15 factories in four continents. And COFCO has joined a venture announced in October by ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus which aims to boost transparency and efficiency through the digitisation of agricultural transactions. The head of COFCO said that one of the goals was to automate execution to reduce costs.
Plant-based meat continues to attract the interest of the world’s largest food makers and distributors as it addresses two key consumer demands: the focus on health and lowering carbon emissions. A senior MacDonald’s executive recognised the value of meat alternatives and revealed that the food-chain – the world’s biggest beef consumer – might look into opportunities in the sector.
Cargill, Tyson Foods and Unilever all recently purchased firms involved in producing plant-based meat. Nestle joined the club this week and announced that it will launch of the Incredible Burger next spring, which is made from soy and wheat protein. The firm hopes to grow its vegan business to USD 1 billion within 10 years.
Meanwhile, the Impossible Burger, made by Impossible Foods, is already sold at 5,000 restaurants in the US. But the firm now faces another hurdle: the FDA said that in its uncooked state, the soy leghemoglobin used to give the burger a meat-like colour and texture would count as a food colouring. Under US law, additives used for colour fall under much stricter norms, mostly because food makers have previously been found to use unsafe products to change colours. Nonetheless, Impossible Foods is still optimistic it will start selling the burger in stores in 2019.
Dairy products represent the next opportunity to switch to plant-based ingredients, and Nestle also announced plans to release a spirulina algae latte and a drink made from walnuts and blueberries. Nonetheless, recent studies reveal that not all plants are equal in the consumer’s eye, as sales of soy-based drinks have been dropping, while oat-based drinks have seen significant increases. Firms are also responding to this change, with Pepsi announcing the release of a Quaker Oat Beverage and Danone announcing three Oat Yeah drinks.
Producers are also responding to another growing consumer demand: cruelty-free products. No-kill eggs, for instance, were recently introduced in Germany. Under a newly developed process, eggs are scanned just a few days after being fertilised to determine the chick’s sex so that males can be discarded before they hatch. And the team behind the eggs seem to enjoy a good pun – they called the scanning method “Seleggt” and labeled the no-kill eggs “Respeggt”.
This summary was produced by ECRUU