David Frum may be an Axis of Evil asshole, but he is right sometimes. In this case, re: the ridiculousness of US ethanol policies.
The Atlantic reports:
The United States is supporting Ukraine with aid and weapons and punishing Russian aggression with financial and economic sanctions. But the United States can do more to resolve the global crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine: It can end the ethanol program.
For decades, the U.S. government has, at great expense, encouraged farmers to grow more corn so that it can be turned into ethanol, a gasoline additive. Ethanol makers receive all kinds of grants and subsidies. Federal regulations require ethanol to be blended into gasoline, creating a giant industry that would not exist without large subsidies and imperious mandates. America’s largest ethanol company earned annual revenues of $8 billion pre-pandemic. Demand from the ethanol industry, in turn, bids up the price of corn, and the income of those who farm it.
Ethanol has become a Washington joke. John McCain often quipped that he started his day with a glass of ethanol. Who could blame him? The ethanol program is a giveaway so big, so entrenched, and so wasteful that laughter might seem like the best response. But as we laugh, we’re missing that America’s ethanol madness has strengthened Russia’s grip upon the world’s food supply.
A little more than two weeks ago, the Chicago City Council took a bite at third-party delivery-service fees, imposing a 15% cap on fees that sometimes reached 30% previously.
Tuesday… DoorDash announced the imposition of a “Chicago fee,” a $1.50 charge added to all orders placed at city restaurants.
The new fee is charged to customers, not restaurants, so is not affected by the Chicago ordinance.
Customers ordering through DoorDash saw a $1.50 “Chicago fee” added to their orders. By clicking on that fee, the following explanation appeared:
Chicago has temporarily capped the fees that we may charge local restaurants. To continue to offer you convenient delivery while ensuring that Dashers are active and earning, you will now see a charge added to Chicago orders.”
A kind of fcku you to Chicago diners, I would say.
Chicago Alderman Scott Waguespack agrees with me:
“This disgraceful fee is an outright attempt to pass this IPO of $3 billion,” he said. “Just pile on more fees and pass their IPO; that’s the only thing I can think of.”
Calling it a Chicago fee might also cause customers to think the charge is a city charge, Waguespack said.
“They might think it’s the city dinging them for an extra $1.50,” Waguespack said. “It doesn’t say ‘DoorDash fee,’ it says ‘Chicago fee.’ I think that’s their intention — to stick it to the city.
“It’s that kind of vulture capitalism mentality — we can do it, so we’re going to do it,” Waguespack said. “The billions of dollars (via the IPO, if successful) isn’t enough; they have to take this too.”
Especially in light of:
The sudden onset of the pandemic in March sent the restaurant industry into a death spiral. Working in a notoriously low-margin business, many couldn’t withstand weeks of limited or no indoor dining. As a result, about one in six restaurants nationwide has closed permanently, and as of September nearly three million restaurant workers had lost their jobs.
Under pressure to pay rent and retain workers, some restaurants turned more of their attention to delivery, particularly from app-based companies like DoorDash, UberEats and Grubhub. Few restaurants that hadn’t done delivery in the past had the time or money to create their own delivery service, which typically brings in less money than dining rooms, where customers are more apt to order more profitable items like appetizers, desserts or a second round of drinks.
These restaurants have quickly found that the apps, with their high fees and strong-arm tactics, may be a temporary lifeline, but not a savior. Fees of 30 percent or higher per order cut eateries’ razor-thin margins to the bone. And a stimulus package that would bolster the industry has stalled in Congress, even as states and municipalities enact new limits on both indoor and outdoor dining.
…the fees are also funding a consolidation among the four largest players that together represent an estimated 99 percent of delivery market share and which will give them greater pricing power.
Though still unprofitable, Uber this month completed its acquisition of Postmates in a $2.7 billion deal. And DoorDash, also a money loser, is going public this week with hopes of raising more than $3 billion from investors. DoorDash’s I.P.O. will net already wealthy investors billions in profits, particularly galling as restaurants wither.
Dan Raskin, an owner of Manny’s Deli in Chicago, said his greatest frustration was the companies’ unwillingness to share customer information with him. That means he cannot verify their claims that they are bringing him new customers. Worse, they appear to be using that data to create competing virtual restaurants — which have no dining rooms, offer multiple cuisines from one location and operate only on the apps.
Vienna Beef’s nearly 50-year run on Chicago’s North Side is coming to an end.
Amid a slew of new developments proposed along the North Branch of the Chicago River, the hot dog maker is set to move its headquarters early this year from its longtime home to a renovated industrial building on the Near West Side.
Chicago-based developer Dayton Street Partners said the meat company has signed a long-term lease for all of 2501 W. Fulton St., a nearly 40,000-square-foot building in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor where it will move its main office and warehouse.
The move will end a run at 2501 N. Damen Ave. that began in 1972. Vienna Beef moved its manufacturing plant away from there in 2013 to the Bridgeport neighborhood on the city’s South Side but kept its headquarters and a warehouse along a rerouted portion of Elston Avenue at Damen and the river.
Vienna Beef, meanwhile, will bring its 127-year-old company and prominent Chicago food brand to a corridor running west of Ogden Avenue between Lake Street and Grand Avenue that is rife with industrial companies like it.
While the City Council last summer opened the eastern end of that Kinzie Industrial Corridor—the portion that borders the now-trendy Fulton Market District—to new zoning uses, it renewed its commitment to keep most of the corridor as a planned manufacturing district.
the last month has passed in a blur of fear and dread as the industry contemplates the Trump administration’s threat to impose 100 percent tariffs on all wines imported from the European Union, along with a variety of other goods including foods, spirits and clothing.
Make no mistake, a tariff of that size, or any number close to that, would be catastrophic for Americans in the beverage and hospitality industry. A 100 percent tariff would double the price of wines in shops and restaurants, with disastrous ripple effects.
Consumers may be furious if confronted with a $25 bottle of Fleurie that has doubled in price to $50. They will have to adapt, or drink wines from somewhere else. But that hardly matters when compared with the American jobs that may be lost and the businesses that could be threatened if the tariffs go into effect.
The fear does not stop with importers. An entire chain of businesses are built around the acquisition and sale of European wines and foods, from distributors to retail shops and restaurants, and all the associated workers — not to mention dock labor, forklift drivers and others.
The Dotard is about to fuck up another industry. Granted, he claims to have never had a drink, but I imagine Trump properties like Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotel etc. make a lot of their annual profits on selling 1%ers and hangers-on overpriced bottles of European Union wine.
A favorite local independent grocery (Green Grocer Chicago) said this in their newsletter yesterday:
Please be aware that the current administration is considering putting 100% tariffs on wine imported from the European Union on JAN 14 (next week!)
If this actually is enacted, it will change the wine industry in fundamental ways for all companies in the space (producers, distributors, and retailers like us).
If this comes to be we will have to tilt our portfolio towards wines from other areas such as South Africa, South America, and of course the good old USA that offer affordable wines at prices our customers like to purchase at.
My suggestion: stock up on Rioja, Chianti, Bordeaux, and other good wines from Europe this weekend!
The owner of Rebel & Rye, a new whiskey bar slated to open by January’s end in River West, wants to overwhelm customers as they walk inside the renovated space. American whiskey, not just bourbon, will be at the forefront and displayed prominently. So far, the bar’s stocked with more than 200 bottles from 28 states, but owner Alex Zupancic wants to eventually increase that number to 400 bottles. Rebel & Rye will also include a whiskey club that offers engraved glasses and personalized bottles.
“I want customers to walk in and say ‘holy crap, look at all those whiskies,’” he said.
While a little awe is fine, Zupancic wants to avoid any pretentiousness associated with whiskey. Inclusivity is what draws drinkers to the spirit, he said. His bar is across the street from one of Chicago’s most infamous late-night haunts, Richard’s Bar. Around the corner stands one of the city’s premier Italian restaurants, Piccolo Sogno. River West is diverse, and Zupancic see an opportunity to cater to all crowds. Whiskey has the ability to bring together people from different walks of life, he said. A news release trumpets a “sneakers or suits” atmosphere for the bar.
The dark space features a bar in front and another in back. It’s in the former Funky Buddha space (726 W. Grand Avenue.) and takes up about 1,200 square feet. Zupancic said the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion inspired him, and he can’t wait to open up his new bar to people from all walks of life. He’s looking to open it the last week of January.
This sounds interesting, and stumbling distance from my office. Will check it out eventually.
Not sure how the Whiskey Rebellion fits in exactly, though…
The Whiskey Rebellion (also known as the Whiskey Insurrection) was a tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791 and ending in 1794 during the presidency of George Washington, ultimately under the command of American Revolutionary war veteran Major James McFarlane. The so-called “whiskey tax” was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue for the war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. The tax applied to all distilled spirits, but American whiskey was by far the country’s most popular distilled beverage in the 18th century, so the excise became widely known as a “whiskey tax”. Farmers of the western frontier were accustomed to distilling their surplus rye, barley, wheat, corn, or fermented grain mixtures to make whiskey. These farmers resisted the tax. In these regions, whiskey often served as a medium of exchange. Many of the resisters were war veterans who believed that they were fighting for the principles of the American Revolution, in particular against taxation without local representation, while the federal government maintained that the taxes were the legal expression of Congressional taxation powers.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon plans to open its first grocery store in Los Angeles, possibly by year’s end. The Journal reported that Amazon had signed leases for at least two other grocery locations that could open early next year. Sources told The Journal that the company was looking into locations in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Amazon is also reportedly looking to buy regional grocery chains.
The Journal reported that the new Amazon grocery stores wouldn’t compete directly with Whole Foods stores, and that they would sell a wider selection of products.
Whole Foods, even though owned by Amazon, still doesn’t sell a lot of products that Amazon would sell in a differently oriented mass-oriented grocery chain. Products like Coca-Cola, Kraft American Cheese, personal grooming products that contain all sorts of chemicals, and so on. Amazon.com sells these items, so they have data regarding how popular cases of Cheetos would be.
I was amazed (and pleased) that these kinds of items did not suddenly appear at Whole Foods once Amazon bought them, actually.
Gluten Free, Certified Vegan, Top 8 Allergen Free, Pareve, Non-GMO
I’m of two minds on this: sure, there is no need to ban dihydrogen monoxide, or other harmless chemicals from packaged foods. Even MSG turns out to be useful, and non-harmful.
On the other hand, food scientists shouldn’t get an automatic pass to put whatever they want in foods, especially if there are untested ingredients. Or too many additives. The best foods are simple, and don’t require 500 word ingredient lists. I’m with Charlie Baggs…
Products free from artificial colors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and certain other additives make up roughly 30% of food and beverage sales and are the fastest-growing segment, according to Nielsen.
The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges its requirements for describing ingredients can be confusing. Anna Abram, an FDA deputy commissioner, points to vitamin B12, which in line with FDA regulations appears on some food labels as cyanocobalamin.
“That sounds like cyanide,” she says. B12, which helps cell and nerve function, occurs naturally in beef and tuna. Breakfast cereals are often fortified with it. She said the FDA is considering ways to make such ingredients sound more palatable.
That’s welcome news to Charlie Baggs, a “clean-label” research chef in Chicago who slashed the list of ingredients in one frozen dinner from 60 to 15. One common foe is xanthan gum, an emulsifier used to stabilize sauces and soups that is widely considered safe and natural .
“It doesn’t sound like something your grandma would use,” he says. “Who wants to eat that?”
Breakthru Beverage Group, the alcohol wholesale business co-led by Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz, announced plans Monday to invest $9.2 million in CannTrust, a Canadian marijuana producer.
Breakthru has signed a letter of intent to become the exclusive distributor for CannTrust as recreational marijuana is set to become legal in Canada on Oct. 17. In doing so, Breakthru joins a growing number of major alcohol companies to recently invest in the global potential of the burgeoning marijuana industry. Giant beer companies such as Molson Coors — parent company of Chicago-based MillerCoors — and Constellation Brands, which bases its beer business in Chicago, are planning to develop and sell cannabis-infused drinks in Canada.
The cannabis sales brokerage operation will reside in a newly-formed subsidiary of Breakthru Beverage Group and will be entirely separate from its beverage alcohol brokerage, Breakthru Beverage Canada. It will however leverage the company’s North American business insights, strategies, technology and analytic tools to be a differentiator in the marketplace.
“CannTrust has made significant investments in both capacity and innovation with the next generation of products such as edibles and cannabis-infused beverages expected to launch in 2019. We have a nano-technology that enables us to produce cannabis infused beverages neutral in taste, and clear as water. This technology will position us to be a leader in Canada, and in future markets globally.” Rogers added.
An affiliate of Breakthru Beverage Group will be purchasing 902,405 common shares of CannTrust at a purchase price of $10.23 per share for gross proceeds of $9,231,600. In addition, the affiliate of Breakthru Beverage Group will have options to purchase from CannTrust up to an additional 2,000,000 common shares in the aggregate at a price per share equal to a 15% discount of the 5-day volume-weighted average price on the TSX immediately prior to the date the applicable option is exercised, if CannTrust exceeds certain sale thresholds.
CannTrust is a federally regulated licensed producer, who brings more than 40 years of pharmacy and healthcare experience to the Medical Cannabis industry. We apply this expertise to produce 100% pesticide free standardized Medical Cannabis for patients in need.
At CannTrust™ we are committed to research and innovation, as well as contributing to the growing body of evidence-based research regarding the use and efficacy of cannabis. Our product development teams along with our exclusive pharma partner Apotex are diligently innovating and developing products. CannTrust has been granted a Section 9 License by Health Canada under the Narcotic Control Regulations. This allows us to expand our product development and research to include pharmaceuticals in an effort to make it easier for patients to use Medical Cannabis today and in the future.
Our onsite laboratory with advanced technology and equipment for testing and research on the medical use of cannabis provides CannTrust with the ability to develop and rigorously test our products at any point.
We continue to evolve our patient and medical practitioner education program about Medical Cannabis, and have an industry leading compassionate use program to support patients with financial needs. We continue to expand to ensure we have a continuous supply of quality standardized products and superior customer service.
Our original 50,000-square foot state-of-the-art hydroponic facility is home to cultivating, processing extracts and our distribution center.
Our second facility is a 430,000-square foot greenhouse in the heart of the Niagara region. The facility is the first of its kind in the Canadian Cannabis industry to be designed and engineered using advanced perpetual growing technology. This facility is one of the largest in North America, with Phase 1 completed and Phase 2 to come on-stream in mid 2018.
At issue for many is where the two fish swim. Most Asian salmon spend the bulk of their lives in saltwater. Rainbow trout are often cultivated in water tanks or ponds, which could expose them to freshwater parasites that could infect humans if the fish is eaten raw. The United States Food and Drug Administration warns of potential parasite hazards from eating freshwater fish. In Hong Kong, a Chinese city that operates under its own laws, serving freshwater fish raw is illegal.
“It’s not only the issue of rainbow trout being substituted for salmon, but whether freshwater fish should be used for sashimi at all,” Dr. Kevin Kwok, an assistant professor in the department of applied biology and chemical technology at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said.
Fish is often mislabeled around the world in order to fetch higher prices, such as labeling yellowtail as mahi mahi or sea bass as halibut. Regulators in the United States label these substitutions as economic deception.
That goes for salmon, too. Officials in the United States forbid fish sellers from labeling steelhead trout — essentially, rainbow trout that swim in saltwater — as salmon. Generally, salmon spawn in freshwater but return to the sea.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this and similar substitution happens frequently in the US as well. Budgets of regulatory agencies have been sliced over the last decade, so who really monitors what kind of fish gets delivered to restaurants?
Adam Sternbergh of The New York Times reports on a topic dear to my heart:
I may be wrong, but my hunch is that, when you go out for lunch with colleagues or even just office friends, you don’t order a martini, let alone three. I’ll wager you don’t order a beer, a glass of wine or a brandy-soaked cherries jubilee. That’s because, a few decades after the heyday of the notorious “three-martini lunch,” the act of ordering even one measly martini with your lunch on a workday is viewed as roughly equivalent to pulling out your heroin works and splaying them on the table between courses.
Would it surprise you to learn that the three-martini lunch was once such a staple of the American workday that it was celebrated by the former President Gerald Ford in 1978? Addressing the National Restaurant Association, Ford called the practice “the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?” The three-martini lunch may be remembered as an anachronistic ritual during which backslapping company men escaped a swallowing sense of existential pointlessness. But Ford’s joke about efficiency ironically suggests exactly why the martini-at-lunch disappeared: not because of some renewed sense of temperance but because of our ascendant obsession with cramming every minute of our day with work.
When the Italian brewer Birra Moretti commissioned a poll in 2011 on daytime drinking habits among American workers, it found that, whereas nearly half of Italians reported they were “inclined” to have a drink with lunch, only 20 percent of Americans reported the same inclination.
This might explain how we’ve arrived at this improbable moment when microdosing LSD in order to increase workplace productivity is, in some precincts, more professionally acceptable than having a glass of wine. But it’s not LSD that has replaced our midday cocktails; it’s that other modern intoxicant: productivity.
As someone who has been self-employed for a while, I don’t have a compunction about day drinking, when appropriate. If I’m meeting a prospective new client, and they are open to having a glass of wine with lunch, I’ll join them, but I won’t be the first to order it. However, if I’m the one being wooed by a prospective new business associate, wine with lunch is absolutely encouraged, or beer if sushi is on the menu. If I’m lunching with associates I already know, or eating to brainstorm, or similar kinds of “working lunches”, again, having a glass or two1 of something is absolutely encouraged. Some meals, I prefer the dose of caffeine of a good green tea, but often will also order an alcoholic beverage for after.
21st C.E. Americans are weird though. This nation was founded on strong ale, cider, and eventually rye whiskey2 – we should not be adverse to having a tipple in the middle of the day.
Vieux Carré with Armagnac and Few Rye
Drinking like Don Draper is not required, you should still be able to go back to work after your meal and not end up on a three day bender.
The factional rancor threatening Republicans heading into the midterm elections this fall erupted into the open on Friday when a slugfest among moderates, hard-line conservatives and House leaders over immigration and welfare policy sank the party’s multiyear farm bill.
The twice-a-decade measure — which would have imposed strict new work requirements on food aid recipients while maintaining farm subsidies important to rural lawmakers — failed on a 213-to-198 vote. It was a rebuke of Speaker Paul D. Ryan by a key bloc of conservatives over his refusal to schedule an immediate vote on a restrictive immigration bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Republican moderates, for their part, were moving in the opposite direction, shrugging off the pleas of their leaders as they worked toward forcing votes on legislation to protect from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
The fights were striking, not only because of their intensity but also because of the participants. Capitol Hill has grown used to altercations between Republican leaders and their adamant right flank — showdowns that have shut down the government and edged the government toward defaulting on its debt. But in past fights, the party’s moderates have proved compliant.
This time, with their districts dominating the Democrats’ target list for the coming midterm races, the moderates are holding firm to their own demands.
More Congressional disfunction, and with no easy solution, at least until the 2018 elections. Paul Ryan has no “juice” left, as he’s a lame duck. He actually should go ahead and resign his Speakership now.
Tom Philpott of Mother Jones adds a little context:
Back in 2016, the Republican Party won the presidency and both chambers of Congress with strong support in rural areas, particularly among farmers. But since that triumph, the Grand Old Party hasn’t exactly been a champion of rural interests. As I’ve written in recent months, President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration is essentially an attack on the workers who keep America’s farms and many rural towns humming. And his trade belligerence with China and Mexico amount to near-surgical strikes against farmers who supported him in California, the Southeast, and the Midwest’s corn and soybean belt.
In the middle of this drama, Congress is tasked with renewing the farm bill—twice-a-decade legislation that shapes US agriculture and food-aid policy. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, hopes to bring his version to a vote on the House floor this week. Let us count the ways it would bring pain to the US heartland:
The US House of Representatives voted down the farm bill this morning by a margin of 198-213. The Washington Post called it a “major embarrassment to GOP leaders” like outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who had hotly promoted the bill. In a Thursday Twitter thread, I laid out the political dynamics that ultimately killed the bill. It remains unclear whether the House Agriculture Committee chair, Rep. Mike Conaway (R.-Texas), will attempt to bring it back to the floor for another vote. House Democrats, who universally opposed the bill, hailed the failure as a victory for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which the bill would have effectively cut. Here’s Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.)
and from that referenced WaPo article, the bill is dead anyway, as the Senate is not even close to accepting the House version:
A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration.
The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes.
But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in defeating the bill.
The outcome exposed what is becoming an all-out war within the House GOP over immigration, a divisive fight the Republicans did not want to have heading into midterm elections in November that will decide control of Congress.
The House farm bill would have been a non-starter anyway in the Senate, which is writing its own farm bill. Any legislation that ultimately makes it to Trump’s desk will have to look more like the version in the Senate, where bipartisan support will be necessary for anything to pass and there is not sufficient support for the food-stamp changes.
As with many great things, Pizza City USA Tours were born out of a combination of love and frustration. “I was super annoyed reading yet another listicle online of the 7 hottest pizza places in Chicago,” explained founder (and Chicago food superstar) Steve Dolinsky. “And I had been to one of them that week and thought, this makes no sense.” Dolinsky, who you probably know as ABC7’s Hungry Hound, was startled to find that no one had done a really-for-real deep dive into Chicago pizza. So, he started eating.
185 pizza places (and some acid reflux and a lot of yoga) later, Dolinsky is, likely, the most comprehensive expert on Chicago pizza in the world. “In January and February of 17, I started on this major quest, doing 3 a day,” Dolinsky remembered. “People talk about ‘3-a-days’ as if it were a workout, but mine were pizza!” The result: a new book coming in September called Pizza City USA: 101 Reasons Chicago is America’s Greatest Pizza Town. If you can’t wait that long (and want to eat pizza yourself), Dolinsky has also started his own tour company.
Be warned, though: this might not be what you think of as “Chicago Pizza.”
“Chicago is really a city of thin crust,” insisted Dolinsky. “My analogy: deep dish is to Chicago what Times Square is to New York. It’s a thing for tourists, locals could really care less.” Most of the pizzas he’s covering in the book and on the tours are from a variety of non-deep dish styles, including tavern-style, Detroit-style, Neapolitan and Roman. A tour will visit places with different styles; for example, one of his bus tours will visit Labriola on Michigan Avenue for deep dish, Pizzeria Bebu for an artisan pie, Pat’s for a tavern-style pizza and Dante’s for a New York-style slice.
Here’s a question with billions of dollars riding on the answer: What do these American brands have in common? Peet’s, Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme, Dr Pepper and Stumptown.
They are all owned by JAB, a secretive European holding company that 50 years ago was making industrial chemicals for swimming pools. Through multiple deals, the firm has stumped its publicly traded rivals with what seemed like a mildly eccentric and expensive shopping spree.
JAB today sells coffee in nearly every form and venue. It distributes brands it doesn’t own such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks for its Keurig coffee maker in single-serve K-cups to brew at home and at work. It sells its own brands of bottled cold coffee and bags of beans, such as Peet’s and Green Mountain. With its own bakeries and coffee shops, it competes directly with America’s biggest coffee chains.
The group’s approach to the coffee business amounts to an expensive bet that the U.S. beverage industry is on the cusp of a reorganization that has been half a century in the making, ending an era in which hot drinks only competed against hot drinks and soft drinks against other soft drinks.
Probably good news for the American food consumer1 – the GMA is crumbling.
A succession of high-profile, global companies have terminated their memberships with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the self-professed “voice of the industry”—rapidly undoing some 110 years of work the trade association had done to amass influence in US politics. In July 2017, as first reported by Politico, the Campbell Soup Company decided to leave GMA by the start of 2018, saying the trade association no longer represented its views. Three months later, the world’s largest food company, Nestlé, announced it was following suit. Then the floodgates opened, with Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, the Hershey Company, Cargill, the Kraft Heinz Company, and DowDuPont all opting to leave, as well.
These high-profile departures will likely cost GMA millions of dollars in lost membership dues; one top lobbyist with a former member company speculates the association may lose about half of its former financial might. In 2016, GMA reported spending nearly $35 million on lobbying initiatives.
Publicly, the companies that left GMA are mostly vague about their reasons for defection. Privately, though, their executives have complained about disagreements with management, arthritic association bylaws, and a seeming unwillingness to budge on issues. As the lobbyist puts it, rather than trying to evolve with consumer demand, GMA leadership chose instead to be pugnacious about issues like GMO transparency and improved food-package ingredient labeling.
New York University nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle says a wounded GMA is unequivocally a good thing for everyday people eager for better access to information about the foods they’re eating.
“The positions that GMA took were really, really retrogressive on a range of consumer issues,” Nestle says. “All these companies are trying to position themselves as being consumer-friendly.”
Companies are increasingly under pressure to find growth in a market where more and more consumers are seeking healthier fare, whether they’re buying organic baby food, cereal without artificial colors or meats raised without antibiotics.
As legacy brands lag, food companies have two options: Change to compete or buy up the new brands that are already growing rapidly.
With each episode of discord, both internally and publicly, it becomes harder for GMA to convince its members to pay fees to belong to a trade group that’s rife with division and, at times, fights against issues they either don’t want fought or don’t want to be associated with.
“More than one food industry lobbyist has told me that they spend more time lobbying their industry association than they do Capitol Hill,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
Many in Washington think GMA has been tone deaf as it has, in some cases, kept up lavish spending even as its members are cutting costs and laying off workers to meet their quarterly targets.
“I don’t know a single challenger brand that’s said ‘hey, I need to join GMA,’” said John Foraker, the founder and former CEO of Annie’s.
My favorite quote comes from Jeff Nedelman, who was a VP of communications at GMA during the 1980s and ’90s: “To me, it looks like GMA is the dinosaur just waiting to die.”
Daniela Galarza reports on one very disappointing change that Amazon has made to Whole Foods, the pending removal of local products from Whole Foods shelves:
For years, Whole Foods employed staffers called foragers who went out into their neighborhoods in search of local artisans at farmers markets or state fairs. There, they found home-made jams and mustards and dressings that they’d buy in bulk.
For mom and pop preservers and picklers, selling their wares at Whole Foods was a boon, and over the past decade, thousands of small brands — many of which still put each label on each jar or package by hand — have come to depend on Whole Foods for the bulk of their business. As part of each store’s local sourcing program, the maker was responsible for stocking their items on Whole Foods’ shelves and could pick a few weekends to set up a table and offer customers a sample. Makers said they were far more likely to sell their items when they were present in the store, answering questions about a product and forging a personal connection while making that sale.
“Whole Foods was always an advocate for the small business. They always wanted to support local artisans,” says Erika Kerekes, founder and owner of Not Ketchup condiments. Not Ketchup was sold at Whole Foods locations in Southern California, near where Kerekes lives, for several years, up until six months ago. (Now it’s sold via its website and on Amazon.)
According to the Journal, this year, Whole Foods started charging local makers to offer samples in store. They’re also requiring makers who sell over a certain threshold to pay a percentage fee to the store. “To suddenly not to be able to sell at Whole Foods, or to have to go through the same vetting process as the bigger names,” Kerekes says, “is a challenge, to say the least.” More often than not, small purveyors don’t have the marketing budget to fly out to Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas, to present their product for a tasting.
“One of the things they want,” Kerekes says about presenting at the corporate level, “is for you to have a marketing plan for at least the next 12 months. They want to know how much money you’re putting into marketing, merchandising, trade shows, online and television advertising… they want to know how often your item is going to be on sale. But unless they have an investor behind them, small, local brands in their early stages of development just don’t always have this mapped out.”
From my perspective, as a long time Whole Foods customer (since 1982, actually), I’m very discouraged by this change. Whole Foods is lumbering towards simply being another corporate grocery chain without much character. Why not retain a little local flavor? Stock mustard by Local Food Folks, carry tomatoes from Mighty Vine, don’t become Kroger (Mariano’s) or Albertsons (Jewel-Osco), don’t morph into yet another giant warehouse of packaged, processed food made by behemoth corporations, the kind of generic store that is exactly the same no matter where you go. Rick Bayless saw the trend lines, and sold his Frontera Foods to ConAgra, but there should be room for small food businesses to flourish.
And what about local spirits and beers? Texas doesn’t allow whiskey or other spirits to be sold in grocery stores, but Illinois does. Will Koval and the myriad of other regional craft distillers currently stocked in Illinois stores lose their distribution because Whole Foods corporate can’t be bothered?
The nearly always empty shelves is another problem, an inventory issue that can be fixed, at least theoretically. Removal of small food brands is a corporate decision made by Amazon, and quite disheartening.
Whole Foods Empty Produce Shelves
No bread for you! at Whole Foods
Slightly more detail from the Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai:
Whole Foods Markets is placing new limits on how products are sold in its stores and asking suppliers to help pay for the changes, riling some mom-and-pop vendors that have long depended on the grocer for visibility and shelf space.
The changes, outlined in an email recently sent to the company’s suppliers, are intended to save on costs and centralize operations.
Previously, Whole Foods allowed suppliers such as Gray to oversee their own merchandise or hire local firms to do so. But under the new rules, Whole Foods is requiring suppliers to work exclusively with Daymon, a Stamford, Conn.-based retail strategy firm, and its subsidiary, SAS Retail Services, to schedule in-store tastings, check inventory on shelves and create displays on their behalf.
Suppliers that sell more than $300,000 of goods annually to Whole Foods will be required to discount their products by 3 percent (for groceries) or 5 percent (for health and beauty products) to fund the new program. Local suppliers will also have to pay $110 for each four-hour product demonstration by Daymon, while national suppliers will have to pay $165. (Vendors can also continue to host demonstrations themselves, as long as they pay a scheduling fee of between $10 and $30.) Daymon did not respond to requests for comment.