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By now we are all inured to the “fake news” label casually thrown about on a daily basis. But now the discussion over what is real and what isn’t is seeping into the labels we give our meat and milk. Science has brought about a wave of innovation in those fields, and traditional makers of those products are none too happy.

Groups representing cattlemen and ranchers sent a letter to President Trump asking his administration to bring regulation of lab-grown, or cultured, meat under the USDA. This follows a different letter from farm bureaus and agricultural groups sent to the FDA asking them to crack down on what types of drinks can actually be called milk. (The hullabaloo over milk even earned a mocking segment on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.)

These moves reveal that we are on the cusp of a societal leap in how we eat, and incumbents are digging in. While cultured meat hasn’t hit store shelves yet, it’s a hot sector for investment and the technology keeps improving and coming down in price. Meanwhile sales of plant-based milks have soared over the past five years while the dairy industry grapples with surpluses and falling prices.

To be fair, having a discussion over what we officially label the food we put into our bodies is a worthy one to make sure we know what we are consuming. Case in point: this week the FDA gave the green light to Impossible Foods saying its heme-burgers are safe to eat, and Beyond Meat can officially slap a “non-GMO” label on its pea protein burgers.

But if we spend all our time and energy (and money) dithering over details over what we call something, before you know it, the robots will have taken over and they will decide for us.

Don’t believe me? We broke the news this week of the launch of robot food startup, Ono Food Company, which is headed up by the former VP of Operations at Cafe X. Details on Ono are slim, but it’s backed by Lemnos, Compound and Pathbreaker. It joins other restaurant robots coming online like those in Spyce Kitchen, Ekim, and Bear Robotics’ Penny.

Robots and automation are expanding into more of our everyday routines. Long John Silvers announced plans to make its drive-thrus fully automated, Pizzametry is working to put pizza vending machines in high-traffic areas like airports and dorms, and Flippy just got a new job making chicken tenders at Dodgers stadium.

Finally, there were some unexpected moves in the meal kit market this week. True Food Innovations is breathing new life into Chef’d, which abruptly shut down earlier this month. Chef’d 2.0 actually involves a number of ex-Chef’d execs, who plan to forego e-commerce and focus on retail. And Chick-Fil-A, of all places, announced an experiment to offer meal kits at a limited number of its stores in Atlanta. While I applaud the effort, I’m not sure it will work.

Whew. It was a big week! And that was just the news. We’re also hard at work assembling an awesome Smart Kitchen Summit: North America. The lineup of speakers is fantastic, the schedule is thoughtful and forward looking for food tech and tickets are on sale now!

As always, we’d love to hear from you! If you’ve got news, send us a tip, or join our Slack channel.

Have a great weekend!

Be kind. Always.

Chris

In the 07/27/2018 edition:

Traditional Meat Producers Lobby Trump Over Cultured Meat
Agricultural professional groups including the American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation fired off a letter to President Trump today, asking for parity when it comes to the regulation of cultured meat.

Got Milk? Are You Sure? Labeling Debate Moves on to Plant-Based Drinks
It looks like the debate over what we label cultured/lab grown/clean “meat” will not be isolated to the deli case. If the comments made by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb today are any indication, there will be another drawn out battle over what we label as “milk.”

Stephen Colbert Mocks FDA’s Crackdown on Plant-Based Milks
On The Late Show host Stephen Colbert turned his biting wit towards a subject that’s been generating a lot of media buzz lately: the question of what to call dairy alternatives. He was referencing last week’s Politico Pro Summit, in which FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that his agency would start cracking down on the use of the term “milk” for non-dairy products.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods Get Label Wins, Score Big for Plant-based Meat
Plant-based burger startup Impossible Foods officially got the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that their patties are safe to eat. Impossible voluntarily submitted their burger to the FDA for testing last year and was surprised when the regulatory body came back to them with a big red flag concerning the burger’s not-so-secret star ingredient: heme.

Lemnos Backs Robot Restaurant Startup Ono
Restaurant robots are kinda hot. The latest evidence of this? Yet another robot restaurant startup called Ono Food Company just got funded, this time from Lemnos, Compound and Pathbreaker ventures. The amount of the funding round was undisclosed.

Now That Delivery Is All the Rage, What Happens to the Drive-Thru?
Long John Silver’s, that bastion of quick-service seafood, made a bold claim today by announcing their intent to “install the most technologically advanced digital drive-thru platforms in the restaurant industry.”

Will You Try Pizzametry’s Pizza Vending Machine?
The Pizzametry is the size of a beefy vending machine. For around $5 – $6 (prices will vary depending on location), you can order either an eight-inch cheese (no sauce), or cheese (with sauce) or pepperoni pizza. The machine is pre-loaded with canisters of frozen dough which are then thawed, cut, pressed, topped and cooked at 700 degrees to make a pizza in three and a half minutes (that time actually goes down to 90 seconds on subsequent pizzas if you order more than one).

Chef’d Assets Acquired by True Food Innovations, to Focus on Retail
True Food Innovations, a food technology, CPG and manufacturing company, today announced that it has acquired the assets of meal kit maker, Chef’d, which abruptly shuttered operations earlier this month. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Chick-fil-A is Paving the Way for Fast Food Meal Kits
Each Chick-fil-A box will contain fresh, pre-measured ingredients to make one of five meals, from chicken enchiladas to chicken flatbread to pan-roasted chicken. (Sense a theme here?) The kits will cost $15.89, feed two people, and can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.

Chick-Fil-A’s Uncanny Valley Problem with Meal Kits
When popular fast food chain, Chick-Fil-A announced it would be experimenting with meal kits next month, I agreed with my colleague, Catherine Lamb, that this could pave the way for a new meal kit sales channel. But in the days since the announcement I’ve soured on the notion. Now, I think consumers will have certain expectations of what a Chick-Fil-A meal kit should taste like, but will instead experience the uncanny valley.

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