Big Food

Big Food Confronts High-Tech Challengers

Innovative food startups trying to curb soaring meat production can expect legal and political obstacles

Growing more and more animals for food is unsustainable. The World Health Organization predicts that global annual meat production will increase from 218 million tons in 1998 to 376 million tons by 2030. That uptick will bring with it numerous negative consequences, including deforestation, animal manure contamination of air and water and excessive use of water supplies and harmful energy sources, not to mention contributions to climate change.

Recognizing this problem, food startups backed by significant venture capital are hoping to create food products without using animals. The goal: provide a viable alternative to the existing animal foods production model that is wreaking havoc on the environment, public health and animal welfare. As a new wave of products aiming to mimic meat, eggs and dairy comes to mainstream supermarkets, Big Food’s pushback will only mount — and what started in the lab will soon make its way to the political arena.  Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Unilever’s Bullying Backfires, Boosts Hampton Creek

Negative media coverage of Big Mayo lawsuit goes viral in case study of PR blunder

All of these images were used in recent media stories of Big Mayo lawsuit

Business schools love a good case study, especially when a big corporation blows it. Now they can add Unilever’s colossal public relations mistake to their list. Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims summed it up with this tweet: “Giant Corporation Generates Huge Quantities of Free Advertising and Brand Equity For Tiny Rival by Suing It”.

As I predicted earlier this week in my post about the maker of Hellmann’s suing start-up Hampton Creek over egg-free mayonnaise, the press and social media firestorm in just the past few days has already given Unilever a black eye, while the Just Mayo brand enjoys free positive PR. Almost all of the stories (of more than 200) I saw online were in Hampton Creek’s favor, framing the lawsuit as a classic David versus Goliath fight, at times mocking Unilever.

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Big Mayo Files Frivolous Lawsuit Against Eggless Competitor

Food Giant Unilever suing Hampton Creek for daring to offer a cruelty-free and sustainable alternative, whining that: “Just Mayo already is stealing market share from Hellmann’s”

Just Mayo

Business school pop quiz: What’s a $60 billion global behemoth to do when a San Francisco start-up cuts into their profits? If answers like “innovate your products” or “hire a better marketing team” come to mind, you must not work at Unilever. That company’s response to competition is to take them to court. Unilever owns many top food brands such as Best Foods (and is also the largest deodorant maker in the world). The company is suing Hampton Creek for unfair business practices and false advertising, claiming their plant-based product called Just Mayo is deceptive to consumers because it doesn’t contain eggs. Actually that’s the whole point: to not use eggs.

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Big Food Uses Dirty Tricks in Ballot Fights over GMO Labeling and Soda Taxes

Voter initiatives in California, Oregon and Colorado illustrate what’s at stake in the food wars

On Nov. 4, voters in three Western states will decide four food-related ballot measures that seem to have little in common: The two state-level measures (in Oregon and Colorado) would require genetically engineered (aka GMO) foods to be labeled as such, and two local initiatives in California (in San Francisco and Berkeley) would place a small tax on sugary soft drinks. But they do have something in common. A large portion of the opposition for all four measures is being funded by two megacorporations: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Moreover, the opposition is using many of the same tactics. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Who Should Define ‘Natural’ Food?

The natural products business is booming. By some industry estimates, retail sales topped an eye-popping $100 billion last year, with nearly 60 percent coming from food. No wonder more food marketers are labeling their products — from Pepsi to Cheetos — natural. But what does the term actually mean?

Despite the term’s popularity — or because of it — there is no official definition of “natural.” With the potential to deceive consumers, the issue is now reaching a breaking point. The proposed solutions from trade groups, lawyers and government agencies range from defining the term to suing over it to ignoring it. Some consumer-advocacy organizations are even calling for a complete ban on the use of “natural” in labeling. But such disparate approaches won’t help shoppers become any less confused and may even make the problem worse.

Read rest at Al Jazeera America ….

Who is pulling the strings at the School Nutrition Association?

As I wrote in June, a bitter fight erupted in Washington, D.C., when the School Nutrition Association (SNA) — representing the nation’s 55,000 school food professionals — decided to oppose nutrition improvements to federally subsidized school meals, claiming that districts face insurmountable challenges from too many changes happening too quickly. Michelle Obama has made the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 one of her top causes and she is pulling no punches defending the new rules, which require schools to serve lower-sodium and lower-fat meals with more whole grains and fruit and vegetable servings. The result is an unfortunate standoff between the White House and the SNA’s current leadership. Read rest at Al Jazeera America ....

Photo Guide to School Lunch – A Walk Through the School Nutrition Association Expo

Dominos Feeding FutureI recently attended the annual meeting of the School Nutrition Association, the trade group that represents the 55,000 food service workers who have the thankless job of feeding millions of schoolchildren every day. While there, I tweeted out a few photos I took on the expo floor and I’ve uploaded all 82 of them to Instagram here.

The images are more or less organized by either food category or company. Several of the event’s official sponsors, including Tyson, PepsiCo, and Domino’s were listed on prominent signs here and here.

First is a series of mascots, including Smuckers, Chester the Cheetah, and the State Fair hotdog. At the National Dairy Council booth, attendees were lined up to have their photo taken with a statue of a cow. Why? Because (I was told) they would get a plush toy cow. The booth was promoting “Fuel up to Play” a nutrition program in schools that emphasizes dairy.

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Have the Feds Made School Food Worse with Government-Approved Junk?

Last week I attended the School Nutrition Association’s annual meeting in Boston, a gathering of the nation’s school food service workers. While most of the controversy lately has focused on the federally-required improvements to nutrition standards for school lunches, getting lost in the shuffle are new standards coming online this fall for school snacks and beverages. Read rest at TIME.com …

School Food Lobby Flip-flops on Healthy School Lunches

School Nutrition Association includes such Big Food sponsors as PepsiCo, Domino’s and Muffin Town.

Perhaps the most visible advocate for improving school food, Michelle Obama is now defending what shouldn’t be such a controversial idea: adding fruits and vegetables to public school lunches. Ask any nutrition expert what foods Americans — especially kids — need more of in their diet, and the answer would be the same: fresh produce. But some Republicans, such as Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, never seem to miss an opportunity to turn a no-brainer into a political battle, particularly when it comes to school food. (Who can forget the pizza as a vegetable debacle?) And just in time to give them the necessary cover, they got a gift from an unlikely source. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has asked Congress to approve waiver requests for schools that are struggling to comply with federal nutrition regulations aimed at improving children’s health.

Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Media Coverage for Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods

Following is the media coverage so far for my recent report, Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods.

Mother Jones: How the US Government Helps McDonald’s Sell Junk Food

Los Angeles Times: Bad government programs watch: Promoting milk as a health food

Food Navigator: ‘Dairy junk foods’ under fire in report highlighting dramatic shift in dairy consumption patterns

Food Politics: Michele Simon’s latest report: “Whitewashed”

Naturally Savvy: Most Dairy Products Are Junk Foods, Says New Report

One Green Planet: New Report Reveals Shocking Ways Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods

The Incidental Economist: The continued power of the milk-industrial complex

Care2: Big Dairy Leans on the Government, Sells Us Junk

 

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