Well, 2012 is almost over. That was fun, wasn’t it? A lot happened over these past twelve months, so let’s take a fond look back at some of the biggest stories of the year:
10. P.F. Chang’s Acquired by Centerbridge Partners
On May 1, a story broke that ended up causing the single largest spike in visitor traffic to our website all year: following declining sales at both its flagship locations and its Pei Wei fast casual restaurants, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro announced that it was being acquired by private investment firm Centerbridge Partners L.P. This was big news for both entities – Centerbridge paid a hefty $1.1 billion for the restaurant chains, taking on all of the company’s common stock at $51.50 a share. In turn, this took P.F. Chang’s off the stock market and returned it to private business status.
9. Craft Breweries Are Taking Over
The craft beer industry is on the rise around the world, and we can’t stop being excited about it. California’s craft beer industry has seen tremendous growth and has become a role model for other small breweries in the United States, Europe, and Asia. There’s no better indication of this than the news that as of 2012 there are now more breweries in the United States than at any other time before, pre-Prohibition or after. There’s still a lot more room for the industry to grow from here, and we’re just thrilled to watch it on its climb.
8. Paula Deen Vs. Diabetes Vs. The World
Butter Queen Paula Deen ruffled quite a few people’s tail feathers early this year due to some controversial choices about her health. Rumors started swirling in early January that Deen was gearing up to come out about being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, a fact that was particularly significant given her enthusiasm for astronomically caloric food that is thought to contribute to the risk of Diabetes. When Deen did come clean about her diagnosis a week later, she shocked everyone in the way she did it – by pairing it with a multimillion dollar endorsement deal with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to shill for the medicine she takes to control her disease. This move drew a lot of criticism from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and left some tarnish on Deen’s celebrity presence.
7. Marilyn Hagerty: Olive Garden Champion and Internet Superstar
On March 7, 2012, octogenarian and Grand Forks Herald EATBEAT columnist Marilyn Hagerty filed an unassuming article reviewing the hottest new restaurant to hit the Grand Forks scene: Olive Garden. Ms. Hagerty had a glass of water and a pasta primavera, and the whole experience was mildly pleasant. She said she might have lemonade next time. Naturally, in this time of irony, the article BLEW UP and Marilyn Hagerty became a bona fide Betty White-level media sensation. She was flown out to New York to be wined and dined at Le Bernardin (“not many minuses” there), talked book deals with Anthony Bourdain, was declared totally over by Robert Sietsema, and by October had won the prestigious Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media – made extra special as Hagerty was Neuharth’s editor at the University of South Dakota’s school newspaper 65 years ago, before he went on to found USA Today. This was her year, and she owned it.
6. Oreo and Chick-Fil-A Choose Sides On Same Sex Marriage
Two major brands created some commotion among consumers over their views on same-sex marriage. Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy went on the record as a proponent of “traditional marriage” and expressed views that more relaxed views on same-sex marriage was “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” No one should have been surprised – Chick-Fil-A has always donated to conservative causes – but the fallout from the interview was huge. While some initiated boycotts and even pulled their promotional support, others rallied around the business with Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Days that raked in profits. On the other hand, Nabisco brand Oreo posted a simple image of a rainbow-colored crème filled cookie next to the word “PRIDE” on its Facebook page in support of Pride Month, and the internet went similarly wild. While some threatened to boycott the brand, they were balanced out by those who were moved by the support.
5. McDonald’s Goes into Overdrive after First Sales Slump in a Decade
Disaster struck at McDonald’s this year: in November McDonald’s Corp reported a 3.5 percent decline in its third-quarter earnings, marking the first drop in monthly same-store sales since 2003. At first, the fast food chain played it cool, insisting that McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson’s job was safe and there was nothing to worry about. But then it turned around and let go McDonald’s USA President Jan Fields instead, and initiated an aggressive new strategy focused on company-owned and franchised locations staying open during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. So far the Thanksgiving initiative worked, accounting for 1 percent of the company’s 2.5 percent sales growth in November, which means that holiday business is likely to become deeply ingrained in McDonald’s yearly strategy from now on – and we wouldn’t be surprised if other fast food chains followed suit.
4. A New Corporation Emerges in Mondelez International
Last year, Kraft broke the news that it would be splitting into two separate entities – a global snacks business and a North America-focused grocery and refrigerated foods business. While the North America operation would continue to operate under the name Kraft Foods, a new name was needed to differentiate the new global snack and confectionery business. In March, Kraft presented that new name idea to shareholders: Mondelez International, a combination of two employee ideas that blended the French word for “world” and a “fanciful expression of delicious." While a lot of reactions to the proposed name were incredulous or all-out derisive (we just thought it sounded a lot like Vandelay Industries ourselves because we watch way too much TV), none of that mattered – shareholders overwhelmingly approved the new name, which entered cannon and took effect on the stock market on May 23.
3. Monsanto Goes to War with Non-GMO Advocates
2012 was a big year for the biotech debate. In the United States, Monsanto was very much on the offensive – the corporation sued the state of Vermont for considering a GMO labeling bill, contributed significant money toward sinking a similar ballot measure in California, and won a federal case against the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. That said, organizations are fighting back: the OSGATA case is in appeals, the Center for Food Safety has lent its support to another case in appeals between Monsanto and farmers on seed patent limitations, migrant workers in Texas initiated a lawsuit against Monsanto over unconscionable work conditions, and internet collective Anonymous threw its hat in the ring by dredging up private Monsanto data and publishing it online. Monsanto had worse luck abroad, losing billions from a court decision in Brazil concerning royalty limitations. Between a court case that found Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning and a study which found that Monsanto’s GM corn caused tumors and organ damage in rats, France was especially hard on the biotech giant. Still the war between GMO and non-GMO advocates rages on – this year neither faction was 100 percent successful, and it remains to be seen how each will fare in the year to come.
2. Hostess Goes Under
Back in January, we urged Hostess Brands to get its act together when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just two years after emerging from a previous filing. But some corporations just don’t listen. Between questionable use of funds and a standoff between the company and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) that led to a strike across all factories to protest slashed wages and benefits, Hostess was unable to dig its way out of this one. On November 16, the business officially closed its doors and terminated the jobs of 18,500 Hostess employees. While a bankruptcy court judge further pushed for an attempt at mediation, Hostess forged ahead and won authorization to liquidate its assets. Overseas investors have since expressed interest in licensing rights proving that, come what may, Twinkies will live on in some capacity forever.
1. Pink Slime: America’s Sweetheart
This happened early in the year, but it’s pretty hard to top the hysteria and backlash that occurred when the United States collectively turned on a product called boneless lean beef trimmings (that’s “pink slime” to you and me), culled from scraps and tenderized with ammonia to deliver ground beef to consumers at bargain prices. Once major fast food franchises like McDonald’s and Taco Bell vowed to stop using pink slime in their food, consumers perked up their ears and started questioning exactly what the meat was made of – and they didn’t like what they found out. Once word got out that the USDA planned to purchase millions of pounds of the stuff for use in school lunches, all hell broke loose. Consumer backlash was so severe that several major retail chains dropped the product from their stores, and the drop in demand was so massive that by the end of March Beef Products Inc. had halted production and AFA Foods had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Politicians with ties to the beef industry blamed media propagandists for a smear campaign on a “safe and wholesome” product, but more than anything this debacle spoke to the need for transparency in the food industry – most consumers are fine with a lot of things, but one thing they’re increasingly not fine with is not knowing where their food comes from.