Month: February 2014

Defining Wholesomeness

The past two weeks have been tumultuous for food and agriculture, featuring the convergence of special interest agendas and consumer food trends into a series of high-profile business developments. In particular, Chick-fil-A’s announcement that the chain will begin selling only antibiotic-free chicken by 2019 and the growing importance of gluten-free foods have epitomized the economic viability of the “free from” moniker.

While gluten-free and antibiotic-free are hardly the same, both claims are used to help position a food’s wholesomeness. Claims such as these are among food and dietary trends that romanticize a time that is perceived as simpler and healthier. For instance, the gluten-free trend is closely related to the Paleo Diet, which encourages eating similarly to how our hunting and gathering ancestors ate. Even though such ideas aren’t necessarily supported by science, they’re backed by a complex marketplace that values the image of a quaint, wholesome life.

The last half of February also has seen even more special interest action, a new book criticizing the poultry industry – and new research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Meat Institute suggesting that the role of animal protein in the American diet may be trend-proof.

Transparency or Exaggeration?

In the past two weeks we’ve taken note of two prominent foodservice companies using agricultural practices for marketing positioning. McDonald’s and Chipotle instigated influencer conversation by presenting two differing depictions of modern agriculture, one relying on transparency, the other exaggeration. Chipotle (formerly owned by McDonald’s) announced the release of a new Web series, Farmed and Dangerous, satirizing modern agriculture — and suggesting that conventional farming is unsafe. Meanwhile, a YouTube series from McDonald’s Canada answers customer questions and shows behind-the-scenes footage of the chain’s facilities, helping to demystify the production process of some of its leading menu items.

Other top stories address questions of food safety and sustainability, adding to influencer interest in how our food system works. For example, the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta showcased the latest improvements in food production. And of course, the U.S. Congress finally passed a new Farm Bill — ending years of gridlock but raising questions about the government’s concern for the meat industry.