An image flashed up on my screen. It was quite dramatic - airmen in camouflage gear pushing a large container off a plane. I thought first it was a still from the new ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ movie.
But when I noted the publication, a more serious connotation was affirmed. I clicked in still believing that it would be a food drop into Ukraine. I was somewhat right in that it was indeed a food drop but not to Ukraine.
The caption on the image read “Shipments of baby formula from Europe are intended to ease the ongoing national shortage”; the source was The White House.
This shortage is due to, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launching an investigation into possible links between bacterial infections in infants and two deaths and baby formula from an Abbott facility in Michigan in February.
While no products have yet tested positive, the Food Safety Authority recalled batches of these products here this week. Check FSAI.ie
In health (p14-15) Margaret speaks to Dr Edel Duggan on an entirely unrelated and yet relevant health matter. Dr Duggan is from the National Poisons Information Centre and the conversation is specifically about how to keep your children safe from poisons on farm and at home.
The “what to do panel” is vital information for parents, no matter the poison ingested.
Reading about the formula, I remembered seeing actress Bette Midler get criticized on social media for saying “Try breast feeding, it’s free and available on demand”.
I did not click into that notification as I 100% understand that the breast versus bottle is a sensitive and highly divisive topic. I felt that there could be little justification for the remark so I avoided it.
Midler made the comment in response to the MSNBC anchor (US TV station), Stephanie Ruhle, who asserted that “baby formula in the USA is an oligopoly with only three companies controlling over 90% of the market”.
This led her to pose the question; “Name another industry / sector / product like this?”
This scenario is not unique and should food shortages arise, supply chain concentration will become more apparent.
Globally there are some very large companies that, unbeknownst to us, commandeer a large proportion of what we spend on food.
Take Nestle, the world’s biggest food company. It owns Pellegrino, Cheerios, Quality Street, Nespresso and Felix. From water to cat food and everything in between.
In Ireland however, food supply concentration is really at retail level with 90% of “take home grocery” sold through five main retailers. The competition between them over the last twenty years has resulted in food price deflation.
In consumer (p12-13), team ICL detail the actions we are taking to cope with the 7% inflation. Food shopping is a prime target and despite no quantitative data to support it, I think that this would be reflective of the population.
COVID-19 drove increased purchasing of branded products but inflation has seen this behaviour revert to private labels (PL). Kantar attests that with promotions down, consumers are seeking out the cheaper alternatives.
PL perform favourably in this environment and now account for 46.3% of total grocery sales.
Many years ago at a food seminar, I remember the CEO of a well-known food brand - who also manufactured an equivalent, but cheaper, PL product for a discounter, saying despondently “private label is a bit like prostitution, no one wants to do it, but it pays the bills”.