In August, the Humane Society of the United States put the poultry industry on notice: With the cage-free egg war all but won, the group would train its fire on broiler chicken producers. “As we look to the future, our focus is likely to shift toward broiler welfare issues,” Josh Balk, the senior food policy director, wrote in a letter to CEOs of major poultry companies, extending an offer to talk privately. If anyone doubted the Humane Society’s resolve, they got their answer Thursday, when two of the biggest food vendors in the country, Compass Group USA and Aramark, announced they would source only humanely raised chickens by 2024. The companies, which cater to cafeterias across the country, said they would begin buying chicken raised with more space, perches, hay and natural light — embracing the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-step program for animal welfare. The companies also said they would switch to controlled-atmosphere stunning, a process that renders birds unconscious before slaughter.
The US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on Sept. 30 issued an updated compliance guideline on documentation required to support animal-raising claims that must be submitted before the claims may be used on product labels. Examples of such claims include “raised without antibiotics,” “organic,” “grass-fed,” “free-range,” and “raised without the use of hormones,” among others currently in use or that may be used in the future. The FSIS previously issued a compliance guideline on animal-raising claims in 2002. The agency said changes from the earlier guideline contained in the new version include definitions for frequently used animal-raising claims, the detailed supporting documentation required for each specific claim that appears on the label, additional information regarding the claim “grass-fed,” information required for duplicating animal-raising claims from purchased products, and examples of labels bearing claims.
Food service companies Aramark and Compass Group USA, in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States and Compassion in World Farming, yesterday announced separate sourcing plans for their future supplies of broiler chicken. Aramark is asking its suppliers to take the following actions by 2024, or sooner if possible: Transitioning to strains of birds that measurably improve welfare issues associated with fast growth rates per Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) standards; Reducing maximum stocking density to equal to/less than 6 lbs./sq. ft. per GAP standards; Providing chickens with enriched environments including natural light, hay bales and perches that meet GAP standards; Evaluating with animal welfare organizations over the next year issues related to litter quality, lighting, air quality, and other environmental conditions; and Rendering chickens unconscious prior to shackling using Controlled or Low Atmosphere Stunning. Compass is agreeing to ensure certification under GAP’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program for all broiler chickens as a buying requirement across 100 percent of their business by 2024.
Newly released survey results comparing consumer attitudes in the two largest beef-producing countries – the U.S. and Brazil – have revealed several important trends in purchasing preferences that are influenced by how beef animals are raised and fed. Cargill's "Feed for Thought" survey of more than 2,000 people in the U.S. and Brazil found that the majority of U.S. consumers (54%) and Brazilian consumers (69%) are more likely to purchase beef raised without antibiotics. Still, only 35% of people in both countries are willing to pay more for it. "I expect that as American Millennials age, we will need to work toward continuously heightening our efforts in the area of transparency while always working to address consumer food trends with a nutritious and affordable food supply," said Randy Krotz, chief executive officer of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. "Animal feed companies and farmers must continue to find alternatives to meet consumer demand and should be prepared to serve a customer base that scrutinizes where their food comes from and how it's made."
The parents might bring home the bacon, but it’s probably the kids who pick the brand. Children have a disproportionate sway over household grocery purchases and decisions — and food marketers know it.
In the report “Kids Food & Beverage Market in the U.S., Eighth Edition,” survey data from market research publisher Packaged Facts revealed that more than a quarter of parents (26%) learn about a new product as a request from their child. Kids ages six and up, in particular, wield a considerable amount of purchasing power, but in reality, brand loyalty is nurtured in children even younger than that. “Children under age six are just as important to marketers as older children are because life-long dietary habits are established during this time period and brand loyalty begins,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts. “This suggests industry players should focus on product development designed to capture younger kids and gain allegiance from parents earlier to keep them involved with the brand throughout childhood.” Ultimately, the items that end up in parents’ shopping carts stem from an assortment of factors. Chief among them are: What brands or products are recognizable to the children; 2. What parents deem healthiest and most nutritious for their children; 3. Which foods kids themselves enjoy eating, and 4. What’s recommended by parents’ peers either directly or through social media or online reviews.
More of today's consumers crave information about food and how it's produced, but the latest consumer trust research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that most want even more. Only 28% strongly agree with the following statement: “I have access to all the information I want about where my food comes from, how it's produced and its safety.” Charlie Arnot, chief executive officer of CFI, said, “Having posed this question for eight straight years, we see that food system efforts are paying off as the long-term trend shows more consumers agreeing, but the overall number must rise if the goal is to earn consumer trust. The industry still has work to do.” “Consumers have a right to know what is in their food and where it comes from,” said Deb Arcoleo, director of product transparency at The Hershey Co.
Six years ago, only a few U.S. cities had food policy directors — strategists tasked with connecting communities with local farm products and improving access to food in underserved neighborhoods. Now, in line with a national push to improve access to healthy foods and support urban agriculture, nearly 20 cities have them. The shift reflects a growing consensus that boosting availability of locally grown food helps people to eat healthier, supports small and midsize farms, and protects the environment by emphasizing sustainable farming practices. And state and local officials are taking steps to ensure that healthy local food is accessible to people of all income levels, not just those who can afford to shop at the growing number of trendy urban farmers markets across the country. This year, Kansas expanded a task force that looks for ways to train farmers and expand access to locally produced food, Louisiana mandated that the state school system develop a farm-to-school program, and the Florida Legislature made it possible for more farmers market vendors to accept food stamps. Over the last 30 years, others have created nearly 300 state and regional food policy councils that bring governments and advocates together to work on food policy issues. In 2015, Hawaii allocated money for a farm-to-school program and California boosted funding for a program that encourages welfare recipients to buy fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California.
As the saying goes, the customer is always right. Over the past year, the U.S. food industry – grocers, restaurants, foodservice and hospitality – rapidly pledged to serve only cage-free eggs in the next 20 years. Led by McDonald's Corp.’s landmark announcement in 2015, retailers are saying they are switching because that’s what their consumers want and it makes business sense in the long run. Egg producers have good reasons to grumble about the change:Cage-free housing is going to cost the industry billions of dollars and will force changes in husbandry and production expectations.The egg and food industries partnered to study the issue scientifically and cage-free wasn’t the best option available.Cage-free egg production on the scale necessary to complete pledges might not be possible before the key year of 2025. The biggest gripe, raised by the industry at United Egg Producers (UEP) meetings in summer and fall 2016, is that cage-free eggs just aren’t selling nearly as well as conventionally raised eggs. This fact can be used to undermine the food companies’ claims about consumer preferences forcing their hand.
The debate around policing food and controlling the diets of others has been largely captive to the elite and monetized by special interest groups like the $125 million DC-based “non-profit” sponsoring the $2 million Question 3 campaign. I’ve been through homelessness and poverty, and as a potential victim of Question 3, I am crashing their exclusive party. The deceptive ballot statement makes no mention of consumer impacts or animal welfare trade-offs. Question 3 will significantly raise the cost of our most affordable and accessible protein choices, not to mention leaving these farm animals unprotected among their own aggressive natural behaviors, which will harm, injure, and kill more chickens and hogs.
A consumer “vote” with every purchase may become easier to tally. Food activist groups will reunite to seek full transparency next. Faber says consumers want access to complete lists of ingredients—including potential allergens—in all the foods they buy, as well as seed-to-table tracking of ingredients and disclosures about fair wage practices. This data can be organized with the “internet of things” technology that has revolutionized other industries. Recent food poisoning incidents have added urgency to tracking efforts. But the food industry isn’t clueless, says Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center for Food Integrity, an industry group whose members include Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont. Full transparency is necessary if big food companies want to regain consumer trust, he says. Arnot founded The Center for Food Integrity in 2007, in partnership with the Indiana Department of Agriculture, to bolster the image of large food companies under fire from consumer advocates. Big food companies felt “the public moving away from us,” he says. The anti-GMO movement was just the most visible evidence. The research from those early years was sobering. “The public believes food companies put profit ahead of consumer health and safety,” he says.