April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2
Food sales in supermarkets are projected to be $765 billion in 2022, less than the expected $900 billion spent in all types of restaurants, cafeterias and other facilities that serve food in institutions.
Food service employers complained of labor shortages in 2022, noting that higher wages and signing bonuses are not attracting enough workers. Fast food restaurants are reducing portion sizes and raising prices to cope with the rising costs of meat and labor. Many franchisees raised prices by 10 percent or more as beef prices rose and average hourly earnings topped $16.
Retail sales of organic fresh produced surpassed $9 billion in 2021, led by $1.5 billion worth of bagged salads and $1.5 billion worth of berries.
Salads and berries obtain some of the highest price premiums for organic produce, while organic bananas have the lowest price premium over conventional produce.
Bananas are the world’s most valuable fruit; banana exports are $7 billion a year. Seven major banana exporters, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Honduras, in January 2022 appealed for importers to pay higher prices to support the 450 million people involved in producing bananas for export.
The Biden administration tackled food-price inflation by focusing on the growing concentration of meatpackers and grocers. The four largest beef packers account for 80 percent of cattle that are processed and the four largest supermarket chains account for 70 percent of sales. Grocery stores that believe fresh produce is a “cart starter” or the major factor in selecting a store tried to hold down produce prices.
Some 22 million households with 42 million people participated in SNAP or Food Stamps in FY21, receiving stored value cards that provided $417 per household or $217 per person per month. USDA raised the value of SNAP benefits to almost $450 per household and $240 per person per month in 2022.
Obesity. A third of American adults are obese. If current trends continue, half of US adults are expected to be obese by 2030. The highest rates of obesity are among minority and low-income women, a reflection of cheap fast and processed food.
Researchers say that the single best weapon against obesity is a soda tax, noting that people who drink extra calories do not fill up as much as when they eat caloric-rich foods. Some want to require restaurants to make entrees that are low in fat and sugar the default or recommended option, and to reduce portion sizes.
The CDC recommends that American adults consume one to two cups of fruit a day and two to three cups of vegetables daily, but only about 10 percent of US residents do. High-income older women are most likely to consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, and low-income young men least likely.
The US has over 70 plant-based or alt-protein suppliers including Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods that have raised more than $3 billion in venture capital. Plant-based proteins often use animal stem cells to create meat substitutes. US cattle ranchers are pushing back, asking USDA to ensure that plant-based meats are not confused with animal meat.
Europeans protect the place names associated with particular foods, such as Parmesan and Gruyère cheese. A US judge in January 2022 ruled that Gruyère is a generic descriptor that cannot be trademarked, allowing US cheese producers to label their cheeses Gruyère. The US allows feta cheese to be made in the US rather than Greece as well as Munster and Parmesan cheeses.
Wine. Americans spent $67 billion in wine in 2020, and a survey of 650 wineries found that most had higher sales in 2021 as restaurants reopened and restocked. Wineries worry that younger consumers prefer hard seltzers and spirits to wine. The 200 million Americans who are 21 and older drink 800 million gallons of wine a year, an average four gallons or 20 bottles each, double the 400 million gallons of wine that was consumed annually in the mid-1990s.
California growers crushed over four million tons of wine grapes each year between 2016 and 2019, but the crush fell in 3.6 million tons in 2020 and 3.9 million tons in 2021; the 2020 crush was lower due to drought and wildfire. District 13 (Fresno) crushed 1.2 million tons in 2021, while District 4 (Napa) crushed less than 120,000 tons.
California wine grape acreage is stable as growers remove and replant about 20,000 acres a year, keeping wine grape acreage stable at about 600,000 acres. Grape production challenges include expensive water, a warming climate and damage to grapes from wildfire and smoke.
The best Old World European wines are linked to terroir and tradition; winemakers say that their wines reflect the soil and winemaking methods allowed by a particular appellation. New World wines, by contrast, feature the variety of grape used to make the wine on their label and not the place where the grapes were grown or the rules that were followed to make the wine.
Old World wines use appellations as brand names, while New World wines feature grape varieties. Defenders of appellations say they help small producers, while detractors say that they lock in antiquated methods of making and marketing wine.
Coca Cola, which markets drinks that range from Peace Tea and Costa Coffee to Innocent Smoothies, Minute Maid Juices, Simply almond milk and Dasani water, joined Constellation Brands to sell ready-to-drink cocktails under the Fresca brand in 2022. During the covid pandemic, sales of ready-to-drink cocktails increased alongside sales of flavored alcoholic beverages.
Constellation sold many of its mass market wine brands to Gallo, and split its wine and craft spirits division into a premium segment including The Prisoner, Meiomi, and Kim Crawford and a mass segment that includes Woodbridge and Svedka vodka.
Italy sold 900 million bottles of sparkling wine in 2021 for €E2.4 billion, compared with France’s 320 million bottles of champagne in 2021 worth €5.5 billion. Three-fourths of Italian sparkling wine is exported to countries led by the US and UK and followed by Germany and France.