How NFTs Might Shakeup Food Marketing, Plus United Fresh and More

Departments - The Scoop

For food companies, NFTs may be about more than speculative trading. They can increase brand awareness and loyalty. Plus, United Fresh and PMA are combining, and sesame gets added to the Big Eight.

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June 18, 2021

Ethereum is an example of one of the crypto-currencies used to buy and sell NFTs.
Quality Assurance photo illustration

Earlier this spring, NFTs — aka non-fungible tokens — were all the rage. The digital tokens or certificates can be a photo, gif, song or video, and are sold using blockchain, making each one unique and unable to be replicated. It’s that one-of-a-kind nature that caused NFTs of works of art, NBA highlights and an animated cat with a Pop-Tart for a body to fetch up to $600,000 and more on various marketplaces.

And although the bubble may have already burst — total sales and dollar amounts were drastically down as of late April, according to nonfungible.com, which tracks NFT sales — the pop culture shifting digital doodads (a Saturday Night Live skit from March might be the best explanation out there) could be useful to food brands.

“It’s like the digital representation of a physical collectible,” said Deb Gabor, CEO of brand strategy consultancy Sol Marketing. “This is another way to attract irrationally loyal fans of your brand.”

Gabor points to Pringles’ release of 50 NFTs of a 5-second video highlighting a new, not-actually-real flavor called CryptoCrisp. All the money raised went to the Ukrainian artist who created the video, while Pringles got all the publicity.

“This is a way to take a brand and have it transcend the actual product,” Gabor said, “which [for Pringles] is a can, and it’s full of these processed potato chips that you can put in your mouth and make a duck bill out of.”

Much like people all over the world wear shirts with the Coca-Cola logo, NFTs are a way for people to demonstrate their fandom for a product, and it’s a way to drive engagement. Taco Bell released NFTs of animated tacos, and Pizza Hut Canada released one that’s a digital image of a pixelated slice of ’za.

Although NFTs could become the next here-for-one-summer Pokémon Go, Gabor thinks there might be enough energy around it to pick up steam.

“When consumer packaged goods companies, experiential brands, exciting content creators and sports brands start to create mass around a movement, that may be enough to actually sort of thrust this into the world of something that’s realistic,” she said.

NFTs are realistic enough that there’s been some backlash online about their environmental impact. Since they’re bought and sold using marketplaces that use cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, which takes a lot of electricity to generate, critics say the environmental costs outweigh the benefits.

“My response to that is, ‘Holy sh*t, calm down, people,’ ” Gabor said.

She countered, pointing out that trading cards, T-shirts, mugs and other physical manifestations of collectibles also have potential environmental impacts.

But, Gabor added, it is important for brands to be prepared if NFTs continue to pick up steam.

“Brands need to keep their ear to the ground to understand what all of the underlying sentiments are and who is having an outsized share of voice in a conversation,” she said. “Make sure that [you] are prepared — not necessarily to respond, but to be proactive about, what is [your] stance on these things.”

Open Sesame

There’s a new major allergen on the way, and while the requirements are a ways off, food manufacturers can prepare now. By Jason Brill

The food industry’s going to have to come up with a new name for the collection of allergens regulated in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).

With passage of the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act in April, sesame was added to the Big Eight allergens of milk, eggs, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Which means it’s now the Big Nine. But Bruce Ferree, an independent consultant/trainer at Eurofins Laboratories and a columnist in this magazine, thinks we can come up with something better.

“Is it the Fine Nine or My Nine? I don’t know.” he said.

In all seriousness, Ferree says the new regulation on sesame, which nearly 1.6 million Americans are allergic to, according to food allergy advocacy organization FARE, is going to require manufacturers to look closely at places where the seed may be hidden. For example, Ferree worked at a co-packer that made aseptic soups, manufacturing the product for another company. That company bought some of the ingredients, including a spice blend that went into the soup.

“The spice mix that goes into that soup, does it have sesame in it?” he asked. “As a manufacturer, I may not know that right now because it doesn’t have to be declared.”

Ferree also highlighted food items where sesame is more apparent but that will still need renewed attention such as hamburger and hot dog buns, tahini spreads and some Asian-style foods. Food businesses have until Jan. 1, 2023, when the packaging regulations go into effect.

“Add things to your HACCP plans, your allergen plan,” Ferree said. “It’s going to take up a little bit more warehouse space to have your sesame allergens set aside. They’re just going to have to think it through.”

Power of Two

United Fresh Produce Association and Produce Marketing Association are combining resources to better serve the produce industry. By Jason Brill

In the pantheon of food collaborations, Oreos, Combos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are on anyone’s Top 10 list.

But a new joint venture is set to shake up the produce industry. In March, United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association announced that they’d be combining resources to create a new global trade organization. When it’s launched Jan. 1, 2022, the new association’s goal is “to enhance member services, increase advocacy before government and the public, help members grow their businesses, and drive consumption of fresh produce and demand for floral products as a vital cornerstone of public health,” a joint release said.

In May, the groups announced their individual members had voted to approve the move, paving the way for the new organization.

We caught up with Jennifer McEntire, senior vice president of food safety for United Fresh, and a columnist in this magazine, to talk about the upcoming new association, what she’s looking forward to and more.

Quality Assurance & Food Safety: Why combine these two organizations?

Jennifer McEntire: This idea is not new. It’s been proposed several times. The time just wasn’t right until now. Both associations currently serve the entire fresh produce industry, from grower and shipper, through fresh cut processor, through distribution out to retail and food service. And sometimes there’s confusion in our communication to the industry about what distinguishes the two associations. I do believe that they are very complementary to each other. There’s not a ton of overlap in what we do, in large part because over the past several years we’ve worked very collaboratively together to divide and conquer — speak with one voice on behalf of the industry. And so it just kind of makes sense to bring them together, to bring these two halves of a greater whole together.

QA: Once launched, how might this new association help improve food safety in the produce industry?

JM: We already have been working very closely together going back several years. I would say that there’s not going to be an abrupt change in the way that food safety is managed. On the other hand, I do think that bringing the two associations together in this new association will give us some opportunities to grow a little bit, to expand the scope of what we’re able to do and have increased capacity when it comes to managing food safety.

QA: In a recent column for this magazine, you shared feedback from a United Fresh member exasperated by the food safety expectations on the industry. How can this help that member and others like her?

JM: We still do have a lot of work to do on the safety side. There is an expectation that we will continue to support the industry, support the members throughout the supply chain. She came from the production side and expressed some of the challenges in trying to make everybody happy through the supply chain. I think that we will continue to try to facilitate those conversations. The new association positions us even better to bring groups of people together to tackle some challenging issues.

QA: What part of this are you most looking forward to?

JM: It’s exciting to me to be able to build something. I’ve worked in several associations in a food safety role. So, to think about, If I was building a new association, and we were going to be able to do whatever we wanted for produce safety, what would that look like? That’s fun and something that we’ll talk about with both the United Fresh and PMA members and nonmembers. What would be attractive from a safety standpoint? What would attract a company to join a produce association? And what kind of resources would they be looking for in terms of the association serving them from the standpoint of food safety? That’s an exciting area to be able to build something new.

Not So Fast

A new study from AIB International offers some stark numbers on pandemic preparedness. By Jason Brill

COVID-19 has given food and beverage companies worldwide a crash course in operating during a pandemic. However, for most of them, their education and preparation doesn’t stop there. According to a new study by AIB International, 78% of food and beverage executives say they are actively preparing for a future global pandemic, with 30% expecting another one within the next four years and 50% expecting one within the next decade. We look at a few of the most interesting figures.