As the final issue of MEAT+POULTRY comes comes off the presses in 2018, it provides an opportunity to look back at the industry news that made headlines during what was another eventful year. Some of that news warranted celebration while other stories served as lessons or sources of bewilderment. Still others are bread crumbs to what could likely be the next macro-trend.
For example, when we published a report in early 2018 based on a tour and interviews with the principals at the headquarters of Impossible Foods, few could have predicted how much the-plant-based foods segment would grow in 2018. Even fewer could have forecasted the controversy that would develop around the competitive factors between traditional meat, cultured meat and plant-based meat alternatives and how the products are merchandised and regulated. But months later, this is a divisive issue making even more headlines.
Meanwhile, one of the fastest-growing segments at the start of the year, home-delivered meal kits, developed chinks in its collective armor with some of the highest-profile brands, including Blue Apron, focusing less on membership-based deliveries to grow and more on retail partnerships. Chef’d ditched its pursuit of Blue Apron-like success in the home delivered meal kit segment, even after partnering with Smithfield Foods to breathe new life into the brand by bringing the kits to retail customers. “Setbacks in financing” was the reason given for the company calling it quits in July, serving as a cautionary tale for the culinary bandwagon jumpers throwing their toque in the ring with hopes of riding the latest wave in innovation.
Not surprisingly, Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc. made news for a variety of reasons throughout the year. Devastating fire damage at Tyson’s poultry plant in Dawson, Georgia, in April resulted in the plant closing permanently. Meanwhile after the company finally found a home for a massive $300-million poultry complex project announced in late 2017 for Tonganoxie, Kansas, residents shooed it away to the more receptive community of Humboldt, Tennessee, where ground was broken in late May.
Just a few months later, in what came as a surprise to many, Tyson’s Tom Hayes announced he was stepping down from his role as president and CEO after serving in the top role for about two years, citing “personal reasons” for his departure.
In the category of: You-just-can’t-make-this-stuff-up, in October, a Smithfield Foods worker was allegedly caught on videotap urinating on, or actually under, a processing line at the company’s Smithfield, Virginia, pork processing plant. The company confirmed it halted production, sanitized the plant and disposed of 50,000 lbs. of product after discovering footage of the incident. Interestingly, this story was among the Top 5 most-viewed stories of the year on meatpoultry.com with many thousands of readers who “couldn’t wait” to find out more.
And in the category of “who’d a thunk it,” the co-winners are founders of two of the most successful foodservice chains whose plights made headlines numerous times throughout the year. In the wake of food safety struggles dating back several years that eroded its stock price and image, Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill founder and CEO followed through with his plans to step down in early 2018. Upstaging Ells, the founder and CEO of Papa John’s, John Schnatter, stepped down as CEO of the pizza company he founded, but retained his majority shareholder status. Unlike Ells, Schnatter hardly went away quietly as he relentlessly scrutinizes the new leaders scrambling to restore order.
As the ink dries on this issue, I anticipate another year of trials, but more triumphs, for the people and companies in this amazing industry.