16 april 2020

US government to intervene to aid food supply chain

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to take steps to maintain the country's food supply chain, which is threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes buying meat and milk to help farmers hit by coronavirus.

In an interview with Fox Business Network, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said: "We want to purchase as much of this milk, or other protein products, hams and pork products, and move them into where they can be utilised in our food banks, or possibly even into international humanitarian aid."

News agency Reuters reported the decision comes amid rising pressure from the US farm lobby for government purchases, as growers and ranchers struggle to get their goods to market because of disruptions caused by the pandemic, forcing some of them to throw out their supplies.

A number of large US meatpackers have had to close facilities where meat would be delivered because of the virus spreading amongst their workforce. Meanwhile, some dairy farmers have also been dumping milk because of a loss of their regular buyers.

In an associated move, USDA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have announced an easing of visa restrictions to make it easier for agricultural businesses to hire immigrant workers who are already legally in the country.

Perdue said: "USDA continues to work with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor and the Department of State to minimise disruption and make sure farmers have access to these critical workers necessary to maintain the integrity in our food supply."


16 april 2020

US meat giant Smithfield to shutter more facilities as Covid-19 bites

Smithfield Foods, the US meat giant, has announced it is to close two more processing facilities after positive Covid-19 tests amongst its workers.

Just days after the company revealed it was closing its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facility amid reports of dozens of positive cases of Covid-19 amongst its 3,700 workforce there, it will additionally shut its Cudahy, Wisconsin, and Martin City, Montana, plants later this week.

The Cudahy dry sausage and bacon plant will shutter for two weeks. Its Martin City site, which employs more than 400 people and produces spiral and smoked hams, receives raw materials from the company's Sioux Falls facility. Without these base products, the facility cannot continue to run, Smithfield, which is owned by China's WH Group, said.

The company, one of the world's largest pork producers, said it will resume operations at Sioux Falls once it receives further direction from local, state and federal officials, which would allow the company to bring its Martin City facility back online.

Both the Cudahy and Martin City facilities are located in close proximity to urban areas in which the spread of the pandemic has been prevalent, Smithfield said, adding that "a small number of employees at both plants have tested positive for Covid-19".

Kenneth Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield, which employs 40,000 people across the group, said: "The closure of our Martin City plant is part of the domino effect underway in our industry. It highlights the interdependence and inter-connectivity of our food supply chain. 

"Our country is blessed with abundant livestock supplies, but our processing facilities are the bottleneck of our food chain. Without plants like Sioux Falls running, other further processing facilities like Martin City cannot function."

Against a backdrop of reports in the US suggesting facility closures could result in meat supply problems, Sullivan added: "For the security of our nation, I cannot understate how critical it is for our industry to continue to operate unabated.

"We are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from Covid-19 in the workplace. This starts with stringent and detailed processes and protocols that follow the strict guidance of the CDC and extends to things like the use of thermal scanning, personal protective equipment and physical barriers, to name a few."


15 april 2020

Adverts for Unilever-made Rebel Whopper banned in UK

Adverts for US fast-food giant Burger King's plant-based Rebel Whopper burgers have been banned in the UK.

The UK advertising watchdog - the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) - said ads for the burgers, which are made by Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, are misleading because they suggest they are vegan and vegetarian-friendly despite the fact they are cooked alongside meat products and contain egg in the mayonnaise dressing.

There was no suggestion the burger patties themselves are anything other than plant-based. The patties are made for Miami, Florida-headquartered Burger King by Unilever via its Netherlands-based The Vegetarian Butcher operation.

The ASA said the chain's claim that the burger is "100% Whopper, no beef" could be understood to mean it did not contain animal products. UK broadcaster the BBC quoted Burger King as saying it had been "clear and transparent" in its marketing.

"We communicated from the outset that the Rebel Whopper is aimed at a flexitarian audience," it said.

But the ASA said in its ruling: "The green colour palette and the timing of the ad and product release to coincide with 'Veganuary' contributed further to the impression that the product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians."

Some of the adverts included small print saying "cooked alongside meat products".

But the ASA said: "We considered it was not sufficiently prominent to override the overall impression that the burger was suitable for vegetarians and vegans."

The organisation said it had received ten complaints from consumers who understood that the Rebel Whopper was not suitable for vegans, or vegetarians and those with egg allergies because it was cooked alongside meat products and used egg-based mayonnaise and challenged whether the claims "100% Whopper No Beef" and "plant-based burger" in ads were misleading.

"Because the overall impression of the ads was that the burger was suitable for vegans and vegetarians when in fact it was not, we concluded that the ads were misleading," it said in its ruling.

Unilever won the contract to supply Burger King's UK and European outlets, currently closed because of the Covid-19 imposed lockdown of restaurants, with plant-based burgers in November. 


15 april 2020

Wyke Farms and Westland Cheese partner to expand reach in Holland and Germany

UK-based independent cheese producer Wyke Farms has partnered with Westland Cheese in a bid to expand its product footprint in Holland and Germany.

Wyke has partnered with Westland following a market prioritisation study, which identified Holland and Germany as key markets for growth.

Wyke Farms managing director Rich Clothier said: “Quality produce from Great Britain has been very well received in European markets. The time is right for us to increase our offering into these regions and have chosen the best partner to help us do this.”

The cheese producer added that it has selected Westland Cheese as its chosen distributor because of its effective marketing and selling function, as well as its ability to reach the Dutch and German markets.

Westland Cheese managing director Henny Westland said: “We are delighted to develop a strategic partnership with a family business that holds strong and similar values to our own.

“At an unprecedented time of change, these values, quality of products and way of doing business have a clear competitive advantage and point of difference to consumers in the market.”

Based in Somerset, Wyke Farms has been exporting cheddar to more than 160 countries for the past two decades. In the UK, Wyke products are available in selected Lidl stores and the South-West, Asda, Co-op and Tesco stores, as well as via the company website.

Last January, Wyke Farms secured planning approval to rebuild its dairy facility in Bruton, Somerset, to double its capacity. The company is carrying out development as part of a five-year plan for growth, which includes increasing brand presence in export markets in preparation for post-Brexit trade.

The 16,589m² Ivy’s Dairy production facility will be energy and water-efficient, as well as environment-friendly and feature soft landscaping and a natural grass roof.


14 april 2020

Industrial Realty Group terminates deal to acquire Meadow Gold Hawaii

Industrial Realty Group has terminated the agreement to purchase Dean Foods’ Meadow Gold Hawaii business.

First announced on 1 April, the deal included the assets, rights, interests and properties relating to Dean Foods’ Hilo and Honolulu facilities. Following the termination of the agreement, Dean Foods intends to close operations at its Honolulu facility by 30 April.

Dean Foods president and CEO Eric Beringause said: “We are extremely disappointed that we were unable to finalise an agreement for Industrial Realty Group to acquire our Hawaii operations.

“This was a difficult decision but, ultimately, given the timeline of our Chapter 11 restructuring, we were not able to find a path forward that would enable our Honolulu operations to continue through our comprehensive court-supervised sale process.

“That said, we are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle for our Hilo facility and that an interested party intends to continue the plant’s operations and maintain the Meadow Gold Hawaii brand name.

“I want to thank our employees for their hard work, dedication and patience throughout this challenging process. We are grateful for their commitment to our customers and our company.”

After the termination of the agreement, Dean Foods has reached an agreement in principle with an undisclosed firm for the sale of it Hilo Facility and related assets on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui as an ongoing business.

According to the new agreement, which is subject to final approval by the Bankruptcy Court, the interested firm will be acquiring assets, rights, interests and properties associated with Dean Foods’ Meadow Gold Hawaii business with the exception of the Honolulu facility.

Earlier this month, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) was named as the winning bidder to acquire a significant portion of Dean Foods’ operations in a court-supervised sale process.

The sale is part of bankrupt milk producer Dean Foods’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy process.

Subject to final approval by the Bankruptcy Court, DFA will acquire assets, rights, interests and properties related to 44 Dean Foods’ fluid and frozen facilities for $433m.


10 april 2020

Continental Mills to expand production capacity with acquisition of new facility in Illinois

Continental Mills, a US-based manufacturer of baking, breakfast and snack brands, has acquired a 175,000ft² facility in Effingham, Illinois, from Hodgson Mill for an undisclosed amount.

This new facility, which is located adjacent to its existing manufacturing facility in Effingham, will enable Continental Mills to gain the capacity it needs to support continued growth.

Continental Mills president and CEO Andy Heily said: “This is an exciting time for Continental Mills and our employees as we expand our operation with a second facility in Effingham that provides a blank canvas for us to customize and meet customer needs in the years to come.”

The facility, following renovation, will become operational sometime in 2021.

Besides boosting capacity, the new facility will also provide close proximity to Continental Mills’ customers in the Eastern, Midwest and Southeast regions.

Continental Mills senior vice president for operations Mike Meredith said: “We already have a great partnership with the Effingham community and, as a family-owned business, those relationships are very important to us.

“We have a tremendous amount of confidence in our team in Effingham, as well as employees across Continental Mills who will prepare this plant to open next year.”

Founded in 1932, Continental Mills’ flagship baking brand is called Krusteaz. It also sells other lines of speed-scratch mixes. The firm offers its baking mixes to national restaurants and other accounts. Several of those accounts are catered by Continental Mills’ existing facility in Effingham.


9 april 2020

Fazer partners with street food producer Snellman

Finnish food company Fazer Group has entered a partnership with Snellman Lihanjalostus to focus on the development of street food products. Snellman is engaged in the production of meat products, which complement Fazer Street Food’s bread products.

Fazer Bakery Finland managing director Markus Hellström said: “Our Fazer Street Food product family had a successful launch in Finland last year. Our collaboration with Snellman is a great way to introduce an entirely new operational model.

“The Fazer Street Food concept is flexible enough to accommodate many other product categories in addition to bread and meat products. Thus, there are also other companies we’re planning to team up with.”

Snellman’s Hot Dog sausages have the same length as Fazer Bakery’s brioche buns, and both companies anticipate that the street food products can be combined very creatively.

Hellström added: “Burgers, hot dogs and wraps have found their place in Finnish kitchens. The expanded product family makes it even easier to cook them successfully. We want to inspire people to make street food at home.”

Last September, Fazer Group entered a strategic partnership to research and develop Solein, a protein ingredient by start-up company Solar Foods. Solein can be produced independently from the soil, thereby avoiding the effects of negative land use, weather and climate.


8 april 2020

FDA changes labelling rules as foodservice operators adapt to Covid-19

The US food regulator has agreed to tweak rules on food labelling as many foodservice operators switch to alternative business models as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that under normal circumstances, restaurants and other similar high-street outlets serving food to the general public would be required to provide nutritional information, including calorie content, on menus. The rules apply to establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more outlets carrying the same name.

But with many operators now having to adapt amid government restrictions on people's movements, for instance by offering take-out services only, the FDA is making temporary concessions. These are enacted under its new guidance document - Temporary Policy Regarding Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Chain Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments During the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency.

The FDA said in a statement dated 1 April: "The FDA is aware that some of these covered establishments are temporarily changing business practices as a result of the pandemic - for example, some dine-in operations are switching to take-out only, which may require changes in online ordering portals and printed menus.

"Because calorie information is required to be declared for standard menu items when a consumer makes a selection, establishments may have difficulty providing this information during a rapid transition to a take-out business practice.

Additionally, some of these establishments may be experiencing temporary disruptions in the food supply chain, which may lead to different menus or substitutions that could affect the accuracy of the nutrition information.

"To provide flexibility to these chains covered by menu labelling requirements, FDA will not object if establishments do not meet menu labelling requirements during this public health emergency. This policy change will remain in effect only for the duration of the public health emergency."