AISLE CHATTER

Karen is the director of marketing/digital strategy and the specialty foods editor at Food World and Food Trade News. With many years under her belt in the hospitality, food & beverage, and retail food industries, she transitioned to the media side of the business in 2011. She can be reached at karen@foodtradenews.com.

As we are in the full swing of the holiday season, despite all of the jubilant decorations, music and all around cheer that makes this month so festive, it is hard to not be reminded of the number of households that are food insecure, especially for those that are located in areas without a nearby grocery store. A glimmer of hope may be found in a recently published study on the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Network Open site, which is a monthly open access medical journal covering all aspects of the biomedical sciences, which indicated that a solution to help ameliorate this problem may be found through the combination of internet access and the availability of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for online ordering. In a research letter published on December 2, a Yale University analysis found that most people in “food deserts” (areas where access to grocery stores and vehicular transportation are limited) in eight states that it studied would increase their access to healthy, nutritious food if they could purchase groceries online and have the food delivered as part of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The study took the eight states that are part of the online purchasing pilot (OPP) for the federal aid program (which offers food-purchasing assistance to low-income and no-income households in the United States) and identified the food deserts within them by utilizing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Census Bureau. A database was made of all stores that both sold and delivered groceries purchased online (including department and big-box retailers) and also accepted orders from users of SNAP. The analysis found that the online grocery delivery systems in the states reviewed – Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington – already cover about 90 percent of the food deserts within them. According to the study, “Our results suggest that existing grocery delivery networks, when combined with online grocery-purchasing, could potentially strengthen access to groceries in many areas where it is most lacking.” The results also indicated, however, “that grocery delivery fees are not covered by SNAP and may deter online purchasing.”

“If you live in a food desert, online grocery delivery really stands out as way to get healthy food that potentially can save your life,” said Eric Brandt, M.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at Yale and lead author of the study. Brandt believes that the benefits of allowing SNAP families to buy healthy food online are far-reaching and wide-ranging. “In the short term, they provide nutrients and nourishment that reduce obesity, boost energy, and help heal patients recovering from serious physical ailments; in the long term, they promote better eating habits and behaviors, which can lower the risk for serious illnesses.” The SNAP OPP, which launched in April of this year, is a two-year test program which hopefully, after figuring out what works and ironing out the kinks, will expand to the other states not in the initial pilot group.

Another program that may help lower income families with grocery expenses is Flashfood, a Canadian food waste reduction app company that has recently partnered up with Meijer, a Midwestern supercenter chain headquartered in Walker, MI. The mobile platform gives shoppers access to surplus grocery items at massive discounts that would otherwise be destined to become food waste. The Flashfood app allows grocery stores to post their high quality, surplus grocery items nearing their “best before date” on the app at up to 50 percent off the retail price. Shoppers can purchase items directly through their phone and pick them up in store. “Food is at the core of what we do, and we are constantly looking at ways to minimize in-store waste because it’s the right thing to do for our communities and our customers,” said Don Sanderson, group vice president of fresh for Meijer. “We are excited to work with Flashfood and learn how much food can be spared from landfills.” Flashfood has already collaborated with U.S. retailers Hy-Vee and Target on pilot programs this year and hopes to add more American grocers to its lineup.

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Also making big steps in reducing waste is industry giant Bimbo Bakeries USA (BBU), which announced last month that it is making a commitment to have 100 percent sustainable packaging for its entire portfolio of products. The Horsham, PA-based company, which is the largest baking company in the United States, will ensure that the plastic bags, individual wrappers, and cardboard boxes for its more than 21 brands of bread, buns, bagels, English muffins, sweet baked goods and snacks will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. “We take our responsibility to protect our planet very seriously,” said Fred Penny, president, BBU. “For years, we have taken steps to reduce the plastic used in our packaging and we are now committing to ensuring that packaging we have in the market does not make it to landfill or our oceans.” BBU is already taking the necessary steps to achieve this goal by partnering with the New Jersey-based recycling innovators at TerraCycle. “To make immediate progress in this commitment, we are expanding our partnership with TerraCycle to make all bread, bun, bagel and English muffin packaging easily recyclable starting January 1, 2020,” said Penny. “We have already diverted more than 5 million Little Bites pouches from landfill through TerraCycle and look forward to including the rest of our portfolio in this important program.” This sustainable packaging pledge is part of a greater global commitment by Grupo Bimbo, the parent company of BBU that during last year’s RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative that brings together influential  businesses dedicated to 100 percent renewable power, committed to sustainable packaging across its entire portfolio around the globe by 2025. Grupo Bimbo is the world’s largest baking company with operations in 32 countries.

As most of the retailers in the industry are in a race to have the best omnichannel presence in their markets, Wakefern is moving its organization one step closer by offering a new menu planning and shopping feature on the website of its Connecticut ShopRite grocery stores called The Recipe Shop. The technology, which is powered by Denver, CO-based Locai Solutions’ e-commerce software called CookIt, takes a shopper’s dietary preferences and seasonally available ingredients into consideration and then offers recipe recommendations. Customers using “The Recipe Shop” feature on ShopRite’s website will have access to nearly 500 CookIt recipes and will include the cost of creating a dish from scratch. “The CookIt technology powers our Recipe Shop to send customers delicious and practical recipes based on the pantry staples they are already shopping for in-store. The technology simplifies meal planning and makes recipe shopping easier and more cost effective,” said Steve Henig, Wakefern’s chief customer officer. The service will also soon be offered under the co-op’s The Fresh Grocer banner. “We’re excited to partner on CookIt with Wakefern under both their ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer banners,” said Mike Demko, CEO of Locai Solutions. “They put a high value on what their brands deliver, and the addition of our CookIt product to their online shopping platform will further elevate the customer experience for both online and in-store shoppers.”

Finally, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Tasha Museles and Jerry Chadwick of the Children’s Cancer Foundation. Tasha, who has been the executive director of the non-profit for the past five years, has taken on a new role as president of the organization. In turn, Jerry (an industry veteran who previously served as vice president of sales and marketing for Lancaster Foods prior to starting his own consulting and marketing firm, My Fresh Solutions) has assumed the role of chairman of the board after serving as president for more than six years. Both work tirelessly to not only raise money for research in finding a cure for pediatric cancer, but also to promote the visibility of a cause that is severely underfunded, with only four percent of federal cancer research funding being allotted to pediatric cancer despite it being the number one cause of disease-related death in children. The amount of time and energy that these two put into this organization is awe-inspiring and I am very proud of their continued effort to fight the fight. Congratulations Tasha and Jerry – CCF is very lucky to have the two of you leading the charge.

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On that note, I am wishing all of you and your loved ones a very joyous holiday season and a wonderful start to 2020!

Until next month AND next year…

Karen can be contacted via email at: karen@foodtradenews.com