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Monitor staffers and guest contributors offer the latest news and commentary on the intersection of food, business, culture, and public policy.

General Mills cereals are displayed on a kitchen counter in Golden, Colo. According to the company's new legal policy, downloading an online coupon for your favorite cereal could cost you the right to sue General Mills in court. (Rick Wilking/Reuters/File)

Download a Cheerios coupon? You can’t sue General Mills. (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.17.14

Food companies are very adept at using the Web as a vehicle for branding and advertising. You can “Like” your favorite yogurt on Facebook, buy your favorite breakfast cereal online, or download a coupon for your go-to granola bar with a click of a button. But beware: Those seemingly harmless online activities could have legal consequences.

General Mills – which manufactures a wide range of products, including cereals like Cheerios and Lucky Charms, as well as brands like Betty Crocker, Bisquick, and Progresso – has added language into its website telling consumers that they will give up their right to sue General Mills if they enter into certain forms of engagement with the company online. The story was first reported Thursday by the New York Times.

Examples include downloading coupons, joining online forums for General Mills products on its websites, entering company-sponsored contests – basically using a General Mills website or other online service in any way. The company also seemed to suggest that merely buying a General Mills product entered customers into that agreement.

Instead, customers will have to resolve conflicts via e-mail or by entering into legal arbitration, rather than through the US court system. ( Continue… )

The door on a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Robinson Township, Pa. Chipotle will raise its prices for the first time in three years, the company announced Thursday, April 17, 2014. (Gene J. Puskar/AP/File)

Chipotle plans first price hike in three years.

By Candice Choi and Mae AndersonAssociated Press / 04.17.14

Chipotle is feeling confident that customers are willing to pay more for its burritos, bowls and tacos.

The Mexican food chain said Thursday that it would raise prices for the first time in three years as its popularity continues to soar. Menu boards with the new prices should start rolling out in coming weeks and be in place at all restaurants by this summer.

Executives have said in the past they were considering a hike of about 3 percent to 5 percent. That translates to an extra 24 cents to 50 cents for an $8 burrito bowl.

Jack Hartung, Chipotle's chief financial officer, said during a conference call with analysts that price is not the main reason customers visit its restaurants anyway.

"Most of the value comes from the experience," he said.

Hartung also noted that the company had earned "permission" from customers to raise prices because of that experience. And if needed, he said Chipotle still had the leeway to further raise prices without scaring off customers. ( Continue… )

A customer buys produce at the Siena Farms stand at Copley Square Farmer's Market in Boston. A new study finds that direct farm-to-customer-sales in the form of farmer’s markets and farm visits do have an economic impact – but what kind of difference depends where the farms are located and on how well local communities have built up an supply chain to support local buying. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/File)

Buying local: Does it really help local economies?

By P.K. ReadGuest blogger / 04.16.14

The motto ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ has long been a guiding tenet of the sustainable food movement. But does acting locally really make a difference and if so, what kind of difference? That’s just what a team of economists set out to explore in the study Linkages Between Community-Focused Agriculture, Farm Sales, and Regional Growth, published in Economic Development Quarterly (2014). Their results revealed that yes,direct farm-to-customer-sales in the form of farmer’s markets and farm visits do make a difference – but what kind of difference depends where the farms are located and on how well local communities have built up an supply chain to support this kind of local buying.

The researchers asked two key questions: First, how are community-oriented farms contributing to agricultural and regional growth? Second, given the importance of major growers and the fact that 75 percent of all agricultural output in the United States is produced by less than six percent of all U.S. farms, just how important is agriculture in the economic growth regionally and nationally? ( Continue… )

A screenshot of the KFC drumstick corsage. The fried chicken chain is making a limited number of corsages available to peckish prom-goers. (KFC)

Drumstick corsage from KFC: Are fast food chains this desperate for young customers? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.15.14

Who said romance was dead? Not KFC, which is helping love-struck teenagers make one of the biggest nights of high school a little more….original.  Original recipe, that is.

The marketing stunts fast food chains are willing to pull to lure the highly coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic have taken a few odd turns in recent years: Pizza Hut perfume, Burger King’s bacon milkshakes, and Taco Bell’s recent breakfast launch headliner, the Waffle Taco, quickly come to mind.

Now it’s KFC’s turn, and its latest ploy comes just in time for prom season. Enter the drumstick corsage, which is exactly what it sounds like: a floral wrist corsage comprised of baby’s breath flowers and, instead of roses, a piece of KFC fried chicken.  For $20, hungry prom-goers can purchase a floral corsage kit from the Kentucky-based florist Nanz & Kraft,  and a $5 voucher to redeem at a KFC location for the chicken piece of his or her choosing (it doesn’t have to be a drumstick, and it can be either Extra Crispy, Kentucky Grilled Chicken or Original Recipe).

KFC, whose parent company, Yum! Brands, also owns Taco Bell, introduced the product last week in an online ad, which quickly racked up a quarter million views. ( Continue… )

A McDonald's breakfast is arranged for an illustration 3 at a McDonald's restaurant in New York last year. McDonald's' newest weapon in the war with Taco Bell breakfasts, the McGriddle, is actually an old success for the restaurant chain. (Mark Lennihan/AP/File)

Taco Bell breakfast? McDonald's brings McGriddles to the breakfast war.

By Guest blogger / 04.14.14

No other chain has something like the McGriddle, McDonald’s pancake/muffin hybrid, which likely is why the chain has followed the coffee giveaway that ended yesterday with a new marketing push for McGriddle sandwiches.

This, much more than free coffee, is McDonald’s response not only to Taco Bell’s entry into the breakfast market but also to all the other competitive activity in the mornings. If menu innovation is going to be key to the competition, McDonald’s gladly will put McGriddles up against Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco and A.M. Crunchwrap. Who wins? McDonald’s average per-store sales are $1 million+ higher than the average Taco Bell’s.

McDonald’s isn’t moving away entirely from its McCafé coffee. New TV advertising positions McGriddles as integral to the way some people take their coffee. Online promotion includes a site showcasing a series of life situations for which “Once you get a McGriddles, you’ll get it” is the recurring tagline.

Interestingly, creation of McGriddles in 2003 is credited to then-SVP of Menu Management Tom Ryan. He since has founded McDonald’s fast-casual competitor Smashburger. ( Continue… )

Customers walk outside a Walmart store in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles. The company said on April 10, 2014, it struck a deal to sell Wild Oats brand organic foods in Walmart stores at nonorganic prices. (Kevork Djansezian/AP/File)

Walmart wants to sell cheaper organic food. Is that good or bad? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.10.14

Walmart is going organic, which, because of its size and market influence, could alter the very meaning of the term.

The world’s largest retailer announced Thursday that it would be partnering with Wild Oats, a prominent health food label, to expand the organic offerings in its grocery section and drive down the price of organic foods across the country.

“We know our customers are interested in purchasing organic products and, traditionally, those customers have had to pay more,” Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery at Walmart US, said in a company press release. “We are changing that and creating a new price position for organic groceries that increases access. This is part of our ongoing effort to use our scale to deliver quality, affordable groceries to our customers.”

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Starting later this month, the Wild Oats label will begin to appear in the retailer’s grocery sections on approximately 100 USDA certified-organic products, including canned goods, salsa, and spices, among others. On average, those offerings will be 25 percent cheaper than organics sold by competitors, according to the company. Prices on Walmart's existing organic offerings apart from the Wild Oats products, including produce and milk, will not be reduced. 

“By partnering with Walmart, Wild Oats is starting a movement that makes it easier than ever for customers to access affordable organic and natural products,” Wild Oats CEO Tom Casey said in the release. “Our availability at Walmart will allow us to finally pass along scalable savings directly to consumers.  ( Continue… )

Sriracha chili sauce bottles are produced at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale, Calif. The factory has been declared a public nuisance by the Irwindale city council because of its spicy smell. (Nick Ut/AP/File)

Sriracha factory declared a public nuisance in California

By The Associated Press / 04.10.14

A Southern California city has declared the factory that produces the popular Sriracha hot sauce a public nuisance.

The Irwindale City Council's action Wednesday night gives the factory 90 days to make changes to stop the spicy odors that prompted complaints from some residents last fall. Declaring a public nuisance will allow city officials to enter the factory and make changes if the odors persist after the deadline.

The decision came despite testimony by air-quality experts that progress was being made toward a resolution. The South Coast Air Quality Management District said its inspectors have taken air samples inside the plant, and believed the information gathered should allow the factory and the city to resolve their differences.

Attorney John Tate, who represents Sriracha maker Huy Fong Foods, Inc., said the company had been working with the AQMD on its filtration system since the complaints first arose and was committed to finding long-term solutions by June 1.

He called the public nuisance declaration a demonstration of "the city flexing its muscle and thumbing Huy Fong in the eye." ( Continue… )

Limes at a fruit market in Hyderabad, India. Because of a lime shortage from Mexican suppliers, many airlines are temporarily suspending the use of limes in their beverage services. (Mahesh Kumar/AP/File)

Lime shortage, high prices have airlines axing fruit from beverage service

By Scott MayerowitzAssociated Press / 04.09.14

Airline passengers in the U.S. might notice something missing these days from their vodka tonics or Diet Cokes: the lime.

A recent shortage and spike in price has caused some airlines — for now — to stop offering the fruit in their beverage service.

"We temporarily pulled limes about two weeks ago, due to skyrocketing lime prices," says Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Halley Knigge. She says the airline normally goes through about 900 limes a day.

Lime growers in the Mexican state of Michoacan have reduced their supply because of unrest caused by drug cartels and flooding from heavy rains. That, combined with drought in California and an overall growing demand for limes for margaritas, tacos and other dishes, has driven up prices to a three-year high.

The average advertised price of a lime in U.S. supermarkets was 56 cents last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up from 37 cents the week ending March 28 and 31 cents a year ago. ( Continue… )

A woman sorted chilies in a field near Ahmadabad, India, on March 7. Giving women better access to land, technology, and other agricultural resources could reduce the number of hungry people by up to 150 million, said a United Nations food agency report on the eve of International Women’s Day. (Ajit Solanki/AP)

Six groups empowering women in agriculture

By Danielle NierenbergGuest blogger / 04.08.14

Farmers and farmers groups, researchers and scientists, and government leaders and policy-makers from across the continent are gathered to better understand family farming in North America and to agree upon common recommendations for the development and support of family farmers in the United States and Mexico. The Dialogue also hopes to identify the key challenges family farmers face as well as the solutions they’re developing in their communities.

This week, Food Tank is also excited to announce our collaboration with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR)GFAR brings together all those working to strengthen and transform agricultural research for development around the world. During 2014 and the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), GFAR is working with Food Tank to showcase and raise awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by smallholders and help identify efficient ways to support family farmers, especially women farmers.
  
 GFAR’s Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP) is “transforming agriculture to empower women and deliver food, nutrition and income security.” GAP is a “vibrant, collective movement for change,” bringing together more than 150 institutions comprised of equally committed actors who work to break down gender barriers and achieve gender equality in agriculture. GAP member projects highlight the role of men and women as producers, develop participatory processes, address social norms and power relations in creating disparities, and put a spotlight on women farmers as the backbone of the land.
 
 The timing of this initiative is more important than ever. Although women make up at least 43 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide, they typically lack access to education, extension services, land, and credit. ( Continue… )

The Sam's Club logo a store in Bentonville, Ark. Tyson Foods has issued a chicken nugget recall affecting products sold at the membership warehouse chain, which is owned by Wal-Mart, Inc. (Sarah Conrad/Reuters/File)

Chicken nugget recall triggered by plastic in 75,000 pounds of nuggets at Sam's Club (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.07.14

Tyson Foods has recalled more than 75,000 pounds of frozen chicken nuggets that may be contaminated with plastic.

The chicken nugget recall, announced last week by Missouri-based Tyson and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), involves two products: five pound bags of “Tyson Fully Cooked White Meat Chicken Nuggets” with “Best if Used By” dates of either Jan. 26, 2015 or Feb. 26, 2015; and 20-pound bags of “Spare Time Fully Cooked Nugget-Shaped Chicken Breast Pattie Fritters w/Rib Meat” (with no “Best by” date specified).

The five pound bags were distributed to Sam’s Club locations nationwide, and the 20-pound bags were shipped for “institutional use in Indiana and Arkansas,” according to the USDA.

The recall was issued after Tyson received customer complaints about small pieces of plastic in the nuggets. “The company has received reports of minor oral injury associated with consumption of these products,” the USDA’s news release on the matter reads. “FSIS [Food Safety and Inspection Service] has received no additional reports of injury or illness from consumption of these products.  Anyone concerned about an injury or illness from consumption of these products should contact a healthcare provider.” ( Continue… )

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