The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will shortly take steps to improve its label approval program for meat and poultry products to avoid consumer confusion. Specifically, the agency will release revised industry guidelines encouraging companies to strengthen their documentation substantiating animal-raising claims and to use third-party certification to verify those claims.
The FSIS will additionally conduct a sampling project of antibiotic residues in cattle to determine whether further measures may be needed to verify “raised without antibiotics” claims, including the requirement that producers submit laboratory test results. The agency may also make rules related to these actions, thereby codifying the changes.
“Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is taking action … to ensure the integrity of animal-raising claims and level the playing field for producers who are truthfully using these claims, which we know consumers value and rely on to guide their meat- and poultry-purchasing decisions.”
In response to these moves, Dena Jones, farmed animal program director for the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), noted: “AWI welcomes the FSIS’ announcement and the actions it intends to take to strengthen its meat and poultry label approval program. We support the agency’s efforts to ensure the accuracy of ‘raised without antibiotics’ claims, enhance substantiation of animal-raising claims, and increase the use of third-party certification to verify those claims.”
AWI has also asked the agency to clarify the difference between “free range” and “pasture raised” claims.
Walmart to Open 1st Own Case-Ready Beef Facility in Kansas
Walmart is adding another link to its chain. The retailer announced the addition of a vertically integrated beef facility in Olathe, Kan., with a planned opening in 2025.
The processing plant will be Walmart’s first owned and operated case-ready beef operation. The site will supply packaged Angus beef to Walmart stores throughout the Midwest. As part of its in-house portfolio, the country’s No. 1 retailer will also provide Angus products from Sustainable Beef, LLC of North Platte, Neb.; Walmart made an equity investment in that facility in 2022.
Having its own plant makes sense for many reasons, Walmart contends. In addition to shoring up availability of popular beef products, the operation will offer greater transparency into the retailer’s supply chain and bolster the local economy by creating more than 600 new jobs.
David Baskin, SVP, deli, meat and seafood, and Bruce Heckman, VP, manufacturing, private brands, shared in a blog post on the company’s website that the Olathe facility will enable Walmart to realize a true end-to-end supply chain for Angus beef, a goal the company first announced in 2019. “The way our customers shop for food has evolved over the past few years, with more seeking greater transparency in the supply chain. We’ll continue to work hand in hand with our suppliers to ensure we're delivering high-quality products, increasing transparency, resiliency and capacity through the supply process and meeting increased demand for our customers,” they wrote.
Thomas Sabatino has joined Rite Aid as EVP and chief legal officer. A member of the company’s executive leadership team, Sabatino oversees the company’s legal affairs, including enterprise risk management, compliance, regulatory affairs and privacy.
“As we continue to accelerate our performance and grow our capabilities, we are pleased to welcome Tom to the Rite Aid team,” said Elizabeth “Busy” Burr, Rite Aid’s interim CEO, to whom Sabatino reports. “We believe Tom’s proven leadership and extensive background in the health care industry and company transformations will help us further our mission to provide whole health for life to all of our customers.”
Sabatino brings to his latest role four decades of experience in the legal field navigating complex business needs, most recently as EVP and general counsel at automotive components company Tenneco Inc. His health care experience includes executive roles at Aetna, Walgreen Boots Alliance, Schering Plough Corp. and Baxter International Inc., where in each instance he drove large-scale growth and operational effectiveness.
“This is an exciting time to join Rite Aid and be part of a performance-driven workforce focused on revitalizing operations and making a meaningful impact on improving health outcomes for all people,” noted Sabatino. “I look forward to supporting these efforts while strengthening our internal legal, compliance, and governance-related capabilities so that Rite Aid remains uniquely positioned to realize its vision for the modern pharmacy.”
Employing more than 6,300 pharmacists, Philadelphia-based Rite Aid operates 2,300-plus retail pharmacy locations across 17 states. The company is No. 22 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, which operates nearly 9,000 retail locations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is No. 5 on PG’s list.
WinCo Planning Large-Scale Warehouse Operation in Washington
Idaho-based WinCo Foods is looking to build a large distribution warehouse that would service its stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. According to a local report, the grocer has filed permit requests for the facility, which will be located in Ellensburg, Wash., and will include storage for dry goods, frozen foods and refrigerated foods.
WinCo is proposing to build a 1.12-million-square-foot grocery distribution warehouse on a 108-acre site, which would also include an on-site gas station, a 48,000-square-foot truck returns warehouse and check-in buildings.
WinCo currently operates distribution centers in Boise, Idaho; Denton, Texas; Modesto, Calif.; and Phoenix. A separate facility was tentatively planned for Seattle, but that never came to fruition.
WinCo is an employee-owned company based in Boise, Idaho, that employs more than 20,000 individuals and operates 138 stores in the states of Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, Montana and Texas. The company is No. 42 on the PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.
Illinois is rolling back a grocery tax suspension set in place in mid-2022 at a time of high gas and food prices and during an election year. On July 1, the state will resume its 1% grocery tax on items meant to be consumed offsite. The tax did not apply to liquor, foods with cannabis, candy or soda.
Illinois is one of 13 states and the only one out of the top 10 most populous states to levy a grocery tax. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, the grocery tax hiatus saved consumers about $185 million between July 2022 and March 2023.
Elsewhere in the U.S., state legislators in Alabama passed a bill to eventually halve the state’s grocery tax from 4% to 2%. Currently on the governor’s desk, the tax rate would be cut to 3% in September and reduced another percentage point within a year if certain conditions are met.
In addition to Illinois and Alabama, other states that currently impose a grocery tax include Mississippi, South Dakota, Missouri, Virginia, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho and Kansas.
As states continue to weigh grocery taxes, the next report on food inflation will be released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on June 13. Earlier this month, the Biden Administration published a blog on the White House website on how food inflation, while still elevated over pre-pandemic, seems to be easing.
The Wonderful Company Welcomes New SVP of Marketing
The Wonderful Company, which encompasses brands including FIJI Water, POM Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios, Wonderful Halos, Wonderful Seedless Lemons, Teleflora and JUSTIN and Landmark wines, has appointed Benal Serin as SVP of marketing. She will lead marketing efforts across the company’s portfolio to expand its $2.1 billion in annual retail sales.
As The Wonderful Company broadens its brand offerings, Serin will also oversee flavor innovations, packaging changes, retail marketing and brand partnerships She reports to Michael Perdigao, president of advertising and corporate communications.
Serin comes to Wonderful from her most recent position as chief marketing officer for Profectus Beauty LLC. She has also served as VP of marketing, global and North America, at Revlon and worked in various capacities at British CPG company Reckitt. She is a graduate of Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey, and Georgetown University's School of Business.
“Benal is an exceptional leader with a strong track record of success, and I am confident that with her leadership and passion for our vision, she will take our consumer-centricity, innovation, brand and marketing strategies, and capabilities to a new level,” said Perdigao.
Serin said she is ready to contribute to the company’s growth. “I am humbled to join this iconic company at such a pivotal time and look forward to learning and growing the business with my future colleagues as we collectively build on this work to lead Wonderful into its next chapter,” she declared.