Better Eggs, Chickens, Come At A Price – But It’s Worth It

chickens-penned-inside-a-UK-hen_house

Fortune reports that Costco is making plans to create its own chicken farm so it can produce one-third of all the chickens that it sells – including the 80 million rotisserie chickens that it sells annually. (That is a mind-boggling number!!)

According to the story, “Costco will slaughter about 1.7 million chickens a week, or 85 million a year … The move is part of Costco’s plan to have more control over its own supply chain. The wholesaler would be able to determine the size and cut of the meat. At the same time, Costco has sought to move toward antibiotic-free and cage-free chickens.” While Costco would own the facility in Dodge County, Nebraska, it would use a third party to actually operate it.
The story notes that Costco “has already made investments in the organic food space in the hopes of ensuring greater organic food supply in the future.”

This is part of a growing trend away from tightly-caged egg-laying hens, most of whom cannot do so much as turn around during their entire few months of life, and the similar restrictions on  ‘meat’ chickens such as those Costo’s  announcement concerns.

A significant number of supermarket chains and their egg suppliers – whose hens produce prodigious quantities of eggs annually, ordinarily under conditions that should be condemned as inhumane, are following the lead of consumer pressure and altering their egg production practices.

As well as altering housing conditions – doing away with tight-confining cages letting hens and ‘meat’ chickens roam free in still-tightly-enclosed-barns – a growing number of producers are moving to the ultimate: letting them roam free in old-fashioned ‘farm yards’. Some are dropping, or reducing, the use of antibiotics – intended to keep poultry healthy through their increasingly-shorter life cycle – and possibly even cutting back on the steroids etc. that enable (?) hens to produce two pounds of breast meat in the time it used to take, not all that many years ago, to bring a chick to close to a total of two pounds of weight, overall.

This is, it seems, what consumers want. And rightly so.

But what’s being overlooked, or at the very least underplayed in press coverage of this remarkable change of direction by a major industry, is the cost factor: Chickens have been raised for their meat, and encouraged to produce eggs, in extremely close proximity for two very practical reasons: The cost of real estate, and the convenience of being able to mechanically mass-feed/egg harvest for relatively small sums, overall.

Shifts toward less livestock control (the hens or ‘meat-bound’ being left, to a greater or lesser degree, on their own) means both feeding and harvesting costs go up. The former increases even more when the feeding move extends to ‘organic’ — a term that has its own sub-categories, ranging from GMO (meaning no Genetically Modified Organisms in the feed) through the likes of gluten- or soy-free (pointing to types of modifying of the feed) almost to ‘hey kid, you’re on your own’ feeding. (The latter, is of course, an exaggeration!)

In my (Central Virginia) area, you can buy a dozen large ‘Sunny Farms’ (yeah, right) eggs from Walmart for around $2.50. For a half a dollar or so more, you can get eggs labeled as ‘cage free’. For a further $2.25 plus, you can get eggs that, in addition to being ridiculously over-packaged, are described as ‘organic’.

My town has something called a ‘trade lot’, a place where sellers of whatever can offer their wares on the first Saturday of the month. Last month, there was an egg-seller, offering dozens at $4.00 a pop. Not cheap – but absolutely worth the money. He says his hens “move to new grass every two days.”

There is NO way major egg producers, with millions of chickens popping ‘em out daily, could do that: Imagine a never-ending Easter-Egg hunt across all those stretches of green!

Moves toward purer, closer-to-natural foods are wonderful – but the results do come at a price, and one has to wonder, how much is the consumer prepared to pay for a dozen eggs?

The four-dollar egg guy’s ‘products’ have tougher shells, yellower yolks, and way more delicious taste than one expects, or gets, from the likes of ‘Sunny Farms’, who really should not allowed to use that name, since from the day they were born through the day they die, his hens never see sun or anything closely resembling it.
Me? I’ll gladly pay the four bucks per dozen for what I perceive to be a truly superior product.

But producers, please note: You tell me something is that good, and I come to perceive it is, you’d better not slack off and offer me a lesser product. I won’t buy it.

But I will talk about the rip-off – here!

This switching-from-factory-chickens/eggs is extending, in a major way, to fast-food chains. I will do a short post on that shortly.

Dairy Milk Is Losing Ground To Non-Dairy Alternatives

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As alternatives to dairy milk have been increasingly available, sales of the former have declined sharply in recent years, according to new research from Mintel.

In 2015 alone, dairy milk sales dropped 7% ($17.8 billion), and a further fall of 11% is anticipated by the year 2020. These sales decreases are being driven, the Mintel report says, by consumer perceptions that alternatives may or do offer superior health benefits. The increasing competition from such alternatives as soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk and the like also is causing retail prices for dairy milk and dairy milk products to fall, a fact reflected in the overall sales volume fall-off.

At the same time, sales of alternatives to dairy milk continue to increase. They were up 9% in 2015, for a total of $1.9 billion in sales.

The continuing, growing popularity of non-dairy milk is troubling to dairy milk producers, as nearly half (49%) of Americans consume non-dairy milk – including 68% of parents and 54% of children under the age of 18 – and seven in 10 (69%) of consumers agree that non-dairy milk is healthy for kids compared to 62% who agree that dairy milk is healthy for kids.

Among non-dairy milk consumers, nearly half (46%, including 57% of parents) drink it at least once a day. Their reasons for doing so including a perception non-dairy milk products are more heart-healthy and better suited for weight loss programs.

While an overwhelming majority of Americans consume dairy milk (91%), it is most commonly used as an addition to other food (69%), such as cereal, or as an ingredient (61%). Just 57% of consumers drink dairy milk by itself.

“In addition to half of Americans consuming non-dairy milk, our research reveals that nearly all non-dairy milk drinkers also drink dairy milk, revealing that consumers are turning to non-dairy out of preference as opposed to necessity,” said Elizabeth Sisel, Beverage Analyst at Mintel.

“Consumers are also less likely to drink dairy milk by itself, instead adding it to food or as an ingredient, undoubtedly contributing to the category’s steady decline in consumption. This signals a need for brands to communicate the benefits of consuming dairy milk as a beverage, especially among parents, who are more willing than consumers overall to drink non-dairy milk and buy non-dairy milk for their children as a better-for-you alternative.”

Mintel research indicates that product and ingredient innovation could lead to further adoption of non-dairy milk. In fact, 30% of Americans would be encouraged to drink/drink more non-dairy milk if it had more protein. One in five (18%) Americans would also be drawn to drink more non-dairy milk with the addition of beauty benefits (eg skin, hair health), including 19% of men age 18-34.

“Our research shows that the difference in when and how much consumers are drinking milk demonstrates that dairy milk is still the go-to option, but it also exposes an opportunity for greater non-dairy milk market penetration. Consumers are connecting their diets with the way they look and feel. This creates opportunities for non-dairy milks to promote health in a number of areas for both men and women, from wellness and nutrition to beauty benefits such as hair and nail health,” continued Sisel.

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I will be very appreciative if you will encourage your friends, family and colleagues to check out what my two blogs – Food TradeTrends.com and YouSayWhat.info – do in the interest of providing information you might, otherwise, never become aware of. You never know: Some of my research could prove useful, or possibly amusing, to you (and/or them).

I also encourage you to check out the blogs of people I am following and Commotion In The Pews, a blog I stumbled upon a year or so ago. The author of the latter is a fascinating guy who cultivates the appearance of the character he plays through a good part of December each year: Santa Claus.

Mars Foods: Eat Less of Some of Our Foods, Please

mars_dishes

Talk about a paradigm shift:  Historically, food manufacturers have spent countless sums encouraging people to eat as much of this product or that one as their appetites, and budgets, can tolerate. Now, in a move to encourage healthier eating, Mars Foods has launched a program to label some of its items as being best eaten only occasionally – not more than once a week, in some instances.

The company’s Health and Well-being Ambition, which will roll out over the next five years, has five principal objectives:

  • Improving nutritional content;
  • Providing consumers with more nutrition information to help them make more balanced choices;
  • Inspiring consumers to cook and eat healthy meals with family and friends;
  • Exploring new formats and opportunities to offer products in more places at affordable prices, and
  • Providing Mars Food associates opportunities to improve well-being through nutritional education, cooking facilities and healthier food options.

Mars’ aim is to help consumers differentiate between foods OK for “everyday” consumption or for only “occasional” use. The latter are products that, for any of several reasons – including flavor, and extending shelf/pantry life – contain high amounts of added salt, sugar or fat.

Mars will provide guidance to consumers on-pack and on its website regarding how often these meal offerings should be consumed within a balanced diet. The company’s website will be updated within the next few months with a list of “occasional” products – those to be enjoyed once per week – and a list of “everyday” products. The BBC has reported that “Occasional” products will include Dolmio lasagne sauces, pesto, and carbonara and macaroni oven kits.

Meanwhile, the company will be working to reformulate products in the “occasional” category where doing so is practical or possible. This will, of course, be a process extending through the five-year roll-out and possibly for a longer period of time.

In addition, Mars Food has said will improve its nutritional product composition through the reduction of added sugar and sodium and the addition of vegetables and whole grains across its global product portfolio. The company will reduce sodium by an average of 20 percent by 2021 and reduce added sugar in a limited number of sauces and light meals by 2018.

Mars also will significantly expand multi-grain options so that half of all rice products include whole grains and/or legumes. What’s more, the company has said that it  will reformulate all tomato-based jar products to ensure each includes at least one serving of vegetables.

An article on the program in New Food magazine quoted Fiona Dawson, global president of Mars Food, Drinks, and Multisales, as saying: “We’re incredibly proud and excited to share our new five year Health and Well-being Ambition. This Ambition advances our Purpose of creating Better Food Today and A Better World Tomorrow. As a busy mum myself, I know how tricky it can be to find healthy meals which everyone in the family will enjoy, and of course, they often need to be quick and easy to prepare.”

Dawson added, “The food industry has already made great strides in reducing sodium, but we have more work to do to help consumers reduce sodium intake. We support release of the U.S. FDA’s draft sodium reduction guidance, because we believe it’s important to begin a stakeholder dialogue about the role industry can play in this critical part of consumers’ diets.”

 

Antibiotics in Animal Feed = Drug-Resistant Germs

Pigs

A Michigan State University study of swine in China and the U.S. has shown that the apparently growing prevalence of antibiotics in their food is leading to an uptick in drug-resistance germ counts.

The study involved swine in large-scale breeding/growing operations in China and what’s been described as ‘a population of pigs’ in the U.S. The research was intended to discover, as it did, how widespread use of antibiotics to promote growth and discourage disease can produce totally unintended, and unexpected, results, including cross-pollination, as it were, of bacteria, causing new forms to be so resistant to antibiotics that people consuming pigs’ meat – be it in the form of, say, pork chops, pork roasts, sausage or bacon – can, and do, too often become ill.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that, every year, no fewer than two million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 of them die, each year, as a result of these infections.

The study team, led by James Tiedje, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at MSU, found that multidrug-resistant bacteria were the norm, not the exception, on farms where growth-promoting and disease-preventing antibiotics are constantly included in the animals’ food.

Tiedje noted that this is “a global issue, not an isolated Chinese issue, [because] multidrug resistance is just a plane ride away. This is why our work in China is definitely as relevant as in the United States.”

Complicating this issue, like others, is the fact that food consumers in the developed world want cheaper food – often from animals raised more efficiently, in terms of time and low-losses during the increasingly-quicker growth process – and people in developing countries absolutely need animal-based foods that are produced and can be sold at prices they can afford on limited budgets.

But no one – beyond swine producers, in this instance – gains when the animals’ feed is so ‘infested’ with antibiotics that consumers end up being confronted with infections, and worse, resistant to the antibiotic-based medicines that are intended to cure them.

The ultimate compromise on the use of antibiotics in animal foodstuffs will undoubtedly have to fall on the side of ‘less is more’: Less antibiotic use can, while more than likely pushing up retail prices of the end product, also is more than likely to leave consumers healthier.

A consummation, as Shakespeare said, devoutly to be wished.Pigs

 

Kids Eating (More) Greens = Better Health, Lower Long-Term Health Care Costs

veggies

A change several years ago by a Department of Agriculture program geared toward financially challenged families – mostly single women with young children – can be said to have more than paid for itself already by improving children’s eating habits, and their health.

Long known as WIC, for Women, Infants and Children, this program now is formally known as the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children – long to be WIC to recipients and sponsors.

It was in 2009 that the USDA added more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk to the WIC program’s food voucher package – permitting, in other words, more of those foods to be bought at lower-than-retail cost, in supermarkets and participating food markets, enabling a WIC beneficiary’s cost-discounting credit voucher to stretch further than it ever had before.

WIC coupons – now actually presented as credits on a government-issued debit card – enable the beneficiary to receive their discounts without facing the potential embarrassment handing over coupons long did at a food store/stand checkout.

The addition of more proven-healthy foods to the available-items package actually is causing recipients – including parents of the roughly four million children benefiting from this program – to make ‘healthier choices’, resulting in their children being less prone to the obesity that, as recently as a few years ago, was affecting one in five children entering elementary school.

Evidence that this is happening was published on April 7 in the journal  Pediatrics, reporting on a study done recently by researchers at the University of California’s Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, UC San Francisco and the UC Agriculture and Natural ResourcesNutrition Policy Institute.

“Although the findings only showed significant improvement for consumption of greens and beans, the other areas for which WIC has put in important efforts – increased consumption of whole fruits rather than fruit juice, increased whole grains – all show trends in the right direction,” said lead author June Tester, a physician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, “and there is opportunity for further study in the future when more years have passed after this landmark change in the WIC package.”

This means, in the short and long term, that those children who are eating healthier are less likely to be obese, less likely to develop Type II diabetes, less likely to develop high blood pressure, or have strokes – or place huge burdens on the health care system throughout their lives. They’re also likely to live longer!

For the UC study, researchers analyzed the diets of 1,197 children, ages 2 to 4 years, from low-income households before and after the 2009 change in the food package. They used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare a nationally representative sample from 2003 to 2008 with diets in 2011 to 2012.

The researchers calculated the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), which is a score with 100 possible points measuring adherence to dietary guidelines, from two recalls by parents of their children’s diets over the previous 24-hour period. For children in households using WIC, this score increased from 52.4 to 58.3 after the policy change. After adjusting for characteristics in the sample and trends in the comparison group, the researchers showed that there was an increase of 3.7 points that was attributable to the WIC package change. This represents important evidence of an improvement in the diets for these children in WIC households, according to a UC press release on the study.

“Vegetables are part of a healthful diet, but in general, children don’t eat enough of them,” said Dr. Tester, a pediatrician at Benioff Children’s Hospital. . Using the Healthy Eating Index, she and her colleagues calculated the Greens and Beans score, which counts dark green vegetables and includes any legumes, such as beans and peas, that were not already counted as protein foods on a different score.

I will be very appreciative if you will encourage your friends, family and colleagues to check out what my two blogs – Food TradeTrends.com and YouSayWhat.info – do in the interest of providing information you might, otherwise, never become aware of. You never know: Some of my research could prove useful, or possibly amusing, to you (and/or them).

 

Did It AGAIN: Jumped On A Story BEFORE The NY Times!

 

big_gulp

Each of the ‘cubes’ represents a teaspoon of sugar!

The story, in this instance, has to do with taxing the sugar in soft drinks. We reported, on March 22, that the U.K. intends to do that effective in 2018.

A week later. (on April 4) The New York Times mentioned the U.K. proposal in an article about Philadelphia’s plan to introduce a similar tax — and the fact that several other countries are leaning the same way, toward a new source of revenue that, by the way, would have serious, positive health benefits.

But still, this blog reported the sugar tax concept — a nearly a done deal in the U.K., from more recent reports — before New York’s ‘paper of record’ made mention of it in a report on Philadelphia’s  idea.

With extremely limited resources, FoodTrandTrends.com has twice in one week been ‘in front of’ one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers on an issue of enormous significance — health- and cost-wise — to a sizable sector of the public.

The Times said the proposed soft drink tax in Philadelphia could far surpass Britain’s in its reach:

Instead of the usual eat-your-vegetables pitch of public health reformers, [Mayor Jim Kenney is offering Philadelphians something delicious: a giant pot of money to fund popular city projects. He says his soda tax could raise more than $400 million over five years, enough to fund not just universal preschool, but also renovations to local libraries, parks and recreation centers; “community schools” that wrap social services with education; and cash for the troubled municipal pension program. He is not using the word obesity, or suggesting that people should drink less soda.

His tax could raise the price of a 20-ounce bottle of soda by 60 cents, an increase likely to make some shoppers think twice. But when asked about the health benefits of the tax, he says, “There’s really serious health benefits in pre-K.”

In other words, this soda tax isn’t for the nanny state; it’s for the needy state. Governments are starting to think of soda taxes as the next sin tax — an untapped source of revenue that could help with other things.

The Times, in short, used its vast resources — including time, tons of reporters and researchers — to take the story further than FoodTradeTrends.com did, and that’s as it should be.

Our purpose, as a blog on ‘trending’ issues, is to draw attention to issues, not necessarily to explore them in depth.

I personally develop FTT’s stories through my own research across a broad spectrum of consumer, trade and government resources, including many from somewhat obscure sources in the far corners of the world.

FTT must be doing something right: In the several months since it was launched, this blog has been seen in more than two dozen countries!