Fermentation is cloaked in mystery for many — it’s bubbly, slimy, stinky and not always Instagram-ready. In The Fermentation Association’s recent member survey, this lack of

understanding of fermentation and its flavor and health attributes among consumers was cited by 70% of producers as a major obstacle to increased sales and acceptance of fermented products.

“We get so many questions from our readers about fermentation. People are very interested, but have very, very little knowledge about it,” says Anahad O’Connor, reporter for The New York Times. O’Connor has written about fermented foods multiple times in the last few months, and those articles were among The Times’ most emailed pieces of 2021. “I think there’s a huge opportunity to educate consumers about fermented foods, their impact on the gut and health in general.”

O’Connor spoke on consumer education as part of a panel of experts during TFA’s conference, FERMENTATION 2021. Panelists — who included a producer, retailer, scientist, educator and journalist — agreed consumer education is lacking. But the methods of how to fill that gap are contested.

How to Tell Consumers “What is a Fermented Food?”

There are differences between what is a fermented product and what is not — a salt brine vs. vinegar brine pickle, or a kombucha made with a SCOBY or one from a juice concentrate, for example.

“I can tell you that the majority of our customers do not even know [what is a] fermented item,” says Emilio Mignucci, vice president of Philadelphia gourmet store Di Bruno Bros., which specializes in cheese and charcuterie. When customers sample products at the store, they can easily taste the differences between a fermented and a non-fermented product, Mignucci says. But he feels the health benefits behind that fermented product are not the retailer’s responsibility to communicate. “I need you guys [producers] to help me deliver the message.” 

“Retailers like myself, buyers, we want to learn more to be able to champion [fermented foods] because, let’s face it, fermented foods is a category that’s getting better and better for us as retailers and we want to speak like subject matter experts and help our guests understand.”

Now — when fermentation tops food lists and gut health is mainstream — is the time for education.

“This microbiome world that we’re in right now is sort of a really opportune moment to really help the public understand what fermented foods are beyond health,” says Maria Marco, PhD, professor of food science at the University of California, Davis (and a TFA Advisory Board Member).

Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) created a Code of Practice to address confusion over what is or is not a kombucha. KBI is taking the approach that all kombucha is good, pasteurized or not, because it’s moving consumers away from sugar- and additive-filled sodas and energy drinks. 

“That said, consumers deserve the right to know why is this kombucha at room temperature and this kombucha is in the fridge and why does this kombucha have a weird, gooey SCOBY in it and this one is completely clear,” says Hannah Crum, president of KBI. “They start to get confused when everything just says the word ‘kombucha’ on it.”

KBI encourages brewers to be transparent with consumers. Put on the label how the kombucha is made, then let consumers decide what brand they want to buy.

Should Fermented Products Make Health Claims?

Drew Anderson, co-founder and CEO of producer Cleveland Kitchen (and also on TFA’s Advisory Board), says when they were first designing their packaging in 2013, they were advised against using the term “crafted fermentation” on their label because it would remind consumers of beer or wine. But nowadays, data shows 50% of consumers associate the term fermentation with health.

“In the last five to six years, it’s changed dramatically and people are associating fermentation as being good for them, which is good for my products,” he says.

Cleveland Kitchen, though, does not make health claims on their fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and dressings. Anderson says, as a small startup, they don’t have the resources to fund their own research. They instead attract customers with bold taste and striking packaging.

“We’re extremely cautious on what we say on the package because we don’t have an army of lawyers like Kevita (Pepsi’s Kombucha brand), we don’t have the Pepsi legal team backing us here,” Anderson says. Cleveland Kitchen submits new packaging designs in advance to regulators, to make sure they’re legally acceptable before rolling them out. 

O’Connor says taste is the No. 1 driver for consumers. This is why healthful but sticky and stinky natto (fermented soybeans) is not a popular dish in America, but widely consumed in Japan. 

“Many American consumers, unfortunately, aren’t going to gravitate toward that, despite the health benefits,” he says. 

Crum disagrees. “Health comes first,” she says. As more and more kombucha brands emphasize lifestyle, and don’t even advertise their health benefits, she feels they are doing a disservice to the consumer. “Why pay that much money for kombucha if you don’t know it’s good for you too?”

Changes in the global food system influenced the types of laws U.S. legislators passed in 2021. States are loosening the regulations on breweries and wineries, offering more government support to local restaurants, allowing the sale of homemade foods and cracking down on hidden fees from third-party food delivery services.

In our last newsletter, we shared the food and beverage laws passed in 20 states in 2021. The list below completes the balance of the country — Massachusetts to Wyoming.

Massachusetts

HB21 — Allows temporary licenses for nonprofit charitable corporations. Allows alcoholic beverages sold to be donated at no charge to the license holder.

HD1331 — Provides that a license to operate a restaurant may be connected to other on-site premises, even if it is not a grocery store.

SB2475 — Extends to-go cocktail sales through May 1, 2022. 

SB2603 — Sets minimum standards for the confinement of chickens, veal calves and pigs, and bans the in-state sale of products that don’t comply. Mandates cage-free conditions for egg-laying hens with welfare enrichments like perches, dust bathing areas, scratching areas and next boxes. The law also expands coverage to egg products and liquid eggs. 

SB2841 — Reform state’s franchise laws, allowing a new qualified brewer for craft brewers. Allows craft brewers who produce fewer than 250,000 barrels annually to end their contract with a wholesaler. It repeals the state’s 1971 franchise law, enacted to protect in-state distributors from larger, out-of-state, foreign brewers, during a time when the craft beer industry did not exist.

Michigan

HB4711 — Allows baseball stadiums at Michigan universities to serve alcohol. 

SB49 — Allows wineries, breweries and distilleries to operate both an on-premise and off-premise tasting room at the same location. 

SB141 — Allows small craft distillers to self-distribute up to 3,000 gallons per year of product to retailers. Also allows craft distillers to ship directly to consumers.

SB142 — Allows a small wine maker to self-distribute directly to retailers.

SB144 — Expands the definition of a mixed spirit drink to allow increased ABV percentage. 

SB559 — Amends state liquor code to allow more entertainment complexes to receive liquor licenses; drops number of needed races from seven to two for a motorsports venue to qualify for a liquor license.

Minnesota

SB958 — Raises the sales cap for cottage food sales from $18,000 (formerly the lowest sales cap in the country) to $78,000.

Mississippi

HB562 — Allows online sales of cottage foods. 

HB572 — Expands boundaries of resort areas where alcohol can be sold.

HB997 — Authorizes private retailers to obtain wholesaler permits for alcohol sales. Also removes the state’s Department of Revenue as a wholesale distributor of alcohol. 

HB1091 — Amends code to increase the alcohol content for alcoholic products. Defines how much product can be produced and sold at a microbrewery.

HB1135 — Allows alcohol delivery from a licensed delivery.

HB1288 — Amends code to allow a charter ship to sell and serve alcohol.

Missouri

HB537 — Allows online sales of cottage foods and removes the $50,000 sales limit on cottage foods.

HB574 — Prohibits inspectors of agricultural grounds or facilities to enforce laws of states other than MIssouri.

SB126 — Legalizes the permanent sales of to-go alcohol. Also expands the sale of alcohol in the state on Sundays.

Montana

HB79 — Provides regulatory clarity for how breweries produce fermented-style beverages, including any alcoholic beverages made by fermentation of malt substitutes, like rice, grain, glucose, sugar or molasses.

HB157 — Removes restrictions for alcohol licensing, allowing brewers and immediate families to both hold a license. 

HB226 — Makes permanent the curbside delivery and to-go drink options for licensed retailers established during the Covid-19.

SB199 — Establishes the Montana Local Food Choice Act. The food freedom bill exempts certain homemade or cottage food products from food licensing and inspection regulations. It also expands the types of foods that can be sold.

SB247 — Allows colleges and universities in the state to serve beer and wine at sporting events.

SB320 — Legalizes the home delivery of beer and wine.

Nebraska

LB274 — Amends the Nebraska Liquor Control Act, making permanent licenses to sell to-go alcoholic beverages. Also allows craft breweries and wineries to sell alcoholic beverages at open-air farmers markets. 

LB324 — Establishes the Independent Processor Assistance Program, improvising the Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection Law. Helps small locker plants make the transition to a federally-inspected facility. 

LB396 — Adopts the Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act, which establishes a structure to facilitate communication between farmers and schools. 

Nevada

SB297 — Requires the Council on Food Security to research and develop recommendations on community gardens and urban farms.

SB307 — Prohibits direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping of alcohol from both in-state and out-of-state breweries, distilleries and retailers. In-state retailers can also make local deliveries from licensed wholesalers. However, DTC wine shipments will still be allowed.

SB320 — Requires food delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash to disclose fees to consumers, breaking down what price is for food, taxes, delivery fee and commission charted to the restaurant. Restaurant committees are limited to 20% of a credit card processing fee during a state of emergency (like the Covid-19 pandemic).

New Hampshire

HB226 — Gives state department of agriculture authority to stop the sale of any produce in violation of state agricultural laws. 

HB345 — Establishes a license for wild mushroom harvesters. Allows state department of health and human services to fine people who distribute wild mushrooms without a license.

HB593 — Requires food delivery service to enter into an agreement with a food service establishment before offering delivery service from that restaurant.

SB66 — Allows takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages.

SB125 — Eases certain regulatory restrictions for a number of beverage manufacturer licenses. Removes limitation on quantity of beer a beverage manufacturer may sell in a day to the public and allows direct-to-consumer shipping to consumers within the state.

SB155 — Allows restaurants to permanently expand dining into a shared space, like a sidewalk or street, with approval from local authorities. This temporary dining space was originally established during the Covid-19 pandemic.

New Jersey

AB1091 — Requires Division of Travel and Tourism to advertise and promote tours of breweries in the State.

AB1478 — Permits theaters with 50 seats or more to apply for liquor license.

AB5906 — Rescinds prohibition on return of certain items purchased from retail food stores during Covid-19 state of emergency. It also provides that future limitations on returns occur during declared public health emergencies.

SB673 — Establishes New Jersey’s first cottage food law (they were the only state in the U.S. without a cottage food law). Allows home-based producers to make food from home rather than a commercial kitchen. These producers must obtain a license every two years, cannot earn more than $50,000 a year and are limited by products that can be sold (though state permission can be granted for additional items).

SB3340 — Expands opportunities for restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic. Provides outdoor dining space and opens new permits for sales at farmers markets.

SB3364 — Allows certain liquor licenses to acquire alcoholic beverage licenses from a retail food store that is a bankrupt asset. 

New Mexico

HM1 — Requests the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to study the economic benefits of regional mobile livestock slaughter units, which would make livestock slaughtering easier for small ranchers. 

HB177 — Enacting the Homemade Food Act. Allows anyone in the state to start a cottage food business — and opens sales to be from home and online (cottage food sales were previously limited to events only). 

HB255 — Allows restaurants to purchase a liquor license at a more affordable rate ($2,500-$10,000, depending on size) if serving alcohol with dinner. Also allows alcohol deliveries with food. 

HB303 — Bans unlawful liquor incentives. No liquor licensee shall accept money or a gift of monetary value to influence the purchase or a certain brand of alcoholic beverage. 

SB1 — Allows qualified state food and beverage establishments to claim a temporary gross receipts tax (GRT) deduction on sales of food and beverages from March 2, 2021 through July 1, 2021 as a stimulus incentive. 

SB2 — Waives the annual liquor license fees for licensees, aiming to boost businesses hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

New York

AB952 — Directs the commissioner of agriculture and markets and the commissioner of economic development to work with the state’s land grant university system to produce a report to provide advice, guidance and recommendations on improving the resiliency of the state’s farm and food supply. Also will provide guidance on the related supply chain logistics to address food shortages, food waste and the inability to get New York farm goods to markets that occurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the goal of creating permanent solutions beyond the state of emergency to reflect the changing wholesale, retail and consumer marketplace.

AB4613 — Creates a task force on improving urban and rural access to locally produced, healthy foods.

AB5386 —  Establishes the New York Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act to enhance and maintain the health and resilience of agricultural soils. The program will assist farmers in improving the health of their soil. It also establishes a climate resilient farming initiative to promote and encourage farmers to reduce the effects of farming on climate change and to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change by improving and maintaining water management systems and soil health.

AB7506 — Requires grease traps at food service establishments be designed to withstand expected loads and prevent unauthorized access, making them safer for the general public.

AB7207 — Authorizes and directs the commissioner of agriculture and markets to conduct a study on urban agriculture, including vertical farming, community gardens and urban farming.

SB1630 — Requires third-party food delivery services to have a valid agreement with a merchant before they advertise, promote or sell the merchant’s products on their platform.

SB2743 — Authorizes the issuance of a temporary retail permit by the state liquor authority to licensees located in a municipality having a population of one million or more persons.

SB6353 — Allows restaurants to utilize municipal spaces like sidewalks and streets for outdoor dining for another year. First granted under an executive order during the Covid-19 pandemic, the law makes restaurant use of public spaces to allow restaurants to recover from the pandemic.

North Carolina

HB4 — Extends ABC permit renewal payment deadlines for bars.

HB890 — Allows consumers to order online and pick-up alcohol from state Alcoholic Beverage Control stores, expands growler sizes from 2 to 4 liters, loosens rules for distillery tours and allows distillers to sell alcohol at festivals.

North Dakota

HB1284 — Modifies special event alcohol permit requirements to remove the rule that persons under 21 years of age must remain out of the area where alcohol is served.

HB1475 — Creates a $10 million agriculture diversification and development fund to provide loans and grants for value-added agriculture businesses in the state.

SB2220 — Moves the sale of Sunday alcohol sales to 8 a.m., the same as the rest of the days of the week in the state.. 

SB2321 — Allows microberies and taprooms to ship products in-state.

Ohio

HB665 — Increases the amount a county or independent agricultural society receives for operating expenses from a county. Removes caps on junior club membership .

HB669 — Makes to-go alcohol sales permanent.

HB674 — Allows home delivery of alcohol, as long as the beverage is served in an original container. 

SB102 — Sweeping liquor reform. Lowers the age for serving alcohol to 18, expands  Designated Outdoor Drinking Areas spaces, clarifies that homebrewers are allowed to brew their own drinks, enter them in tasting competitions and share them at local club gatherings. 

Oklahoma

HB1032 — Creates the Homemade Food Freedom Act which provides for regulation and oversight for the production, transportation and sale of homemade food products. Now allows almost all types of baked, non-perishable and perishable foods. Also increases sale limits from $20,000 to $75,000, allows direct sales and allows shipment of non-perishable items.

HB2117 — Allows certain communication and interaction via social media by alcohol wholesalers, beer distributors and retailers.

HB2122 — Allows the sale of to-go cocktails, mixed drinks or single-serve wine in a sealed container for off-premise consumption.

HB2277 — Permits licensed alcohol retailers to offer different drink specials at various locations owned and operated under their license, like a happy hour.

HB2380 — Allows customers to self-pour their own beer, wine or mixed beverage from automated machines.

HB2726 — Allows Oklahoma small businesses to offer bottle service to their customers.

SB85 — Authorizes holders of multiple small brewer licenses to sell beer at multiple locations.

SB262 — Requires wine and spirit wholesalers to remit alcohol excise taxes when purchasing alcoholic beverages for sale within the state except for wine shipped by wineries possessing a Winemaker Self-Distribution License.

SB315 — Allows licensed distillers to sell spirits for on- or off-premise consumption on distillery property or in an area connected and controlled by the licensee.

SB385 — Allows retail spirits, wine and beer licensees to host alcoholic beverage tastings.

SB499 — Requires that customer receipts for alcoholic beverages purchased at catered, public and special events include a line item for the 13.5% tax collected.

SB760 — Allows multiple alcohol licensees to designate a common drinking area.

Oregon

HB2111 — Changes name of “Oregon Liquor Control Commission” to “Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.” 

HB2264 — Alcohol reform bill. Allows Indian tribe or airline that holds full on-premises sales license to negotiate with Oregon Liquor Control Commission purchase price of distilled liquor for specified sales. Directs Oregon Liquor Control Commission to study alcohol. Changes definition of “malt beverage.” Allows nonprofit organizations to sell alcoholic beverages for up to 45 calendar days per year without license issued by commission. Allows holder of full on-premises sales license to sell, deliver and ship to consumers specified alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption. Allows holder of limited on-premises sales license to deliver and ship to consumers specific alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption. Allows holder of off-premises sales license to sell specified alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption. Allows holder of temporary sales license to ship specified alcoholic beverages to consumer. Repeals license application fee. Allows advertising by liquor store to be visible from outside store. Specifies that retail sales or distillery outlet agent’s deposit with commission is of check and cash receipts. Specifies wine containing more than 16% alcohol by volume is taxed at 10 cents per gallon. Requires manufacturer, purchaser and distributor of alcohol to retain records for three years. 

HB2742 — Allows holder of off-premises sales license to sell factory-sealed containers of malt beverages that hold more than seven gallons.

HB2363 — Allows certain holders of temporary event licenses to sell specified alcoholic beverages for on and off-premises consumption at more than one location on licensed premises — or have up to three premises licensed under single temporary sales license and operate for up to 30 day.

HB2395 — Modifies single-use checkout bag prohibition in the state. Changes definition of “recycled paper checkout bag” to include bags that contain non wood renewable fiber.

HB2611 — Permits agricultural building to be used for uses other than uses set forth in definition of “agricultural building” if additional uses are incidental and accessory to defined uses, are personal to farm owner and farm owner’s immediate family or household and do not pose hazard. 

HB3361 — Requires third-party food platform to enter into agreement with restaurant before arranging delivery of orders from food place or listing food place on application or website. Requires third-party food platform delivery service to receive written consent from restaurant before arranging for delivery or order from restaurant.

SB806 — Includes “fortified cider” in definition of cider. Allows holder of direct shipper permit to ship up to five cases of wine per month to Oregon residents. Deletes requirement that commission charge application fee for new licenses. Provides that the alcohol commission may allow applicant to defer or waive payment of annual license fee if Governor declares state of emergency. 

Pennsylvania

HB425 — Allows a liquor licensee that has closed either permanently or for a long time to sell its liquor license.

HB427 — Gives establishments with liquor licenses a 15% discount (instead of 10%) on the purchase of liquor from the state stores for three years.

SB434 — Alters “sell by” and “best by” dates on milk. Allows processors to apply for Department of Agriculture approval to exceed the current 17 day limit.

Rhode Island

HB5131 — Prohibits a food service establishment from providing a consumer with a single-use plastic straw, unless the consumer requests such a straw.

HB5214 — Eliminates the $10.00 fee requirement for businesses to obtain a sales tax permit.

HB5758 — Establishes the state’s first Cottage Food Law, but only allows farmers to sell homemade products.

SB142 — Allows the sale of alcoholic beverages on New Year’s Day by retail Class A licensees.

SB364 — Entitles dairy farms to the exemptions from taxation already granted to farmland, forestland and open space.

SB555 — Authorizes a Class B liquor license holder to sell to-go alcoholic beverages with take-out food orders (but rule will sunset on March 1, 2022).

SB788 — Prevents third-party food delivery services from using the likeness, registered trademark or any intellectual property belonging to the restaurant to falsely suggest sponsorship or endorsement without the restaurant’s consent.

South Carolina

SB619 — Allows more off-site tasting rooms in the state. Amends 1976 law affecting distilleries, breweries and wineries, to establish off-site “satellite locations” for sale of their products.

South Dakota

HB1109 — Updates state homebrew legislation to include cider as a permissible homemade alcoholic beverage. Allows (in limited quantities) for homemade alcoholic beverages permissible to be sold on licensed premises for certain events, and allows homebrewers to transport homemade alcoholic beverages from their household. 

HB1121 — Deregulates the homemade or cottage food market. Repeals requirement that homemade canned goods must be inspected by a third-party authority for pH levels. Replaces lengthy warning that food wasn’t produced in a commercial kitchen and required allergen listing with a shorter summary. Allows sellers to sell their products through third parties without getting a good service license (as long as they aren’t making more than $150,000 a year).

HB1153 — Authorize the Board of Regents to contract for the design and construction of a new dairy research and extension farm on the campus of South Dakota State University, with equipment and furnishings.

Tennessee 

HB306 — Extends the Tennessee dairy promotion committee to June 30, 2029. 

HB1129 — Adds requirements for farmers to participate in herdshare programs, like maintain owner records, include warning labels on products and notify owners in case of contamination.

HB1514 — Reduces the population threshold (from 925 to 700) to make a municipality eligible to hold a referendum on the sale of alcoholic beverages. 

SB17 — Allow breweries to self-distribute 1,800 barrels of beer throughout the state each year without having to go through a wholesaler.

SB269 — Authorizes a delivery service licensee to charge a fee based on a percentage of the sales of the alcoholic beverages or beer being delivered; limits the fee to no more than 10% of the price of each alcoholic beverage sold.

SB299 — Defines “food hall” for purposes of consumption of alcohol on the premises of a food hall; enacts certain requirements governing the operation of a food hall.

SB403 — Requires state to disclose certain information on contracts with wholesalers of alcoholic beverages.

SB591 — Authorizes a person or entity holding liquor license to sell or transfer their alcoholic beverage inventory to another licensee if they’re closing their establishment.

SB681 — Allows to-go alcohol sales for the next two years.

SB705 — Prohibits licensure as a winery direct shipper of in-state or out-of-state wine fulfillment houses.

Texas

HB1024 — Allows permanent sales of to-go beer, wine and mixed drinks for pickup and delivery food orders.

HB1276 — Allows restaurants to sell bulk foods directly to the public.

HB1518 — Loosens alcohol restrictions on Sunday mornings, allowing sales starting at 10 a.m. rather than noon.

HB1755 — Allows customers to take home unopened bottles of wine.

HB1957 — Sets new standards on what can be labeled as a Texas wine. If putting Texas on the wine label, winery must grow majority of grapes (75%-95%) within the state, county and/or vineyard on the label.

HR2002 — Recognizing June 2022 as National Dairy Month in Texas.

SB617 — Allows all food producers to sell food directly to consumers, not just farmers. Limits permit fees.

SB911 — Bans third-party food delivery service from using a restaurant’s trademark or charging a restaurant fees (unless agreed upon in writing). Also protects a restaurant from predatory food delivery services — allows a restaurant to be removed from the third-party delivery services listing if requested, and required third-party delivery services to provide consumers with a means to express concerns with their delivery. Gives restaurants the power to sue a third-party delivery service if it violates the terms. Also prohibits cities and counties from creating interfering regulations than what the state approved.

SB1226 — Allows brewpubs to legally host tastings.

Utah

HB94 — Legalizes microenterprise home kitchens, allowing home chefs to sell their homemade meals. 

HB296 — Creates the Utah Soil Health Program.

SB137 — Gives the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control an additional $4.3 million to raise salaries for its retail clerks, warehouse workers, store managers and assistant managers up to market standards.

SB147 — Prohibits farm owners and operators in the state from confining egg-laying hens to enclosures. Must implement cage-free housing systems by 2025.

HB166 — Criminalizes theft of livestock.

Vermont

HB218 — Expands raw milk sales for producers selling at farm stands and CSA’s in the states.

HB313 — Extends for two years the governor’s executive order to allow curbside pickup and delivery of alcohol. 

HB434 — Establishes the Agricultural Innovation Board.

SB20 — Bans the sale of common items containing PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances used to make food packaging grease- and water-resistant). The bill takes steps to restrict harmful phthalate and bisphenol chemicals from food packaging. 

Virginia

HB1299 — Allows for the sale of to-go alcohol beverages until July 1, 2022.

HB1902 — Prohibits food vendors from using single-use expanded polystyrene food service containers. Requires chain restaurants to stop using such containers by July 1, 2023, and sets the date for compliance by all food vendors as July 1, 2025. A penalty will be inflicted of $50 a day for violators.

HB1973 — Allows nonprofits conducting online fundraisers to sell and ship wine in closed containers as part of a fundraising activity. 

HB2068 — Establishes the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Grant Program. The governor will award the grants based on infrastructure development projects that support local food production and sustainable farming. 

HB2302 — Allows farmers markets to be treated as grocery stores during state of emergency and are allowed to remain open as essential businesses during a state of emergency declared by the Governor. 

SB1188 — Establishes the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Program and Fund for Virginia farmers and food producers to donate, sell, or otherwise provide agriculture products to charitable food assistance organizations.

SB1193 — Establishes the Dairy Producer Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program. Gives dairy farmers (with a resource management or nutrition management plan) the ability to receive a refund of their annual premium payment paid into the federal program.

SB1428 — Prohibits the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority from selling in government stores low alcohol beverage coolers not manufactured by licensed distillers. 

SB1471 — Allows the Board of Directors of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to increase the frequency and duration of outdoor events that sell alcohol. The laws are expected to provide flexibility to restaurants during COVID-19.

Washington

HB1145 — Allows the use of non wood renewable fiber in recycled paper carryout bags.

HB1480 — Allows sale of to-go alcohol products, including cocktail kits and growlers. 

HB5362 — Ensuring the funding of agricultural fairs.

SB5022 — Enacts recycling requirements for plastic beverage containers. Bans polystyrene (EPS) products and sets-up opt-in requirements for dining establishments using single-use foodware. 

SB5272 — Waives a one-time annual liquor license and cannabis license fee for those establishments for 12 months. 

West Virginia

SB 51 — Requires dairy foods processed in the state to be added to the list of items to be purchased by state-funded institutions. 

SB 58 — Creates the West Virginia Farm Fresh Dairy Act.

Wisconsin

SB56 — Allows alcohol beverage retailers to make online or phone sales of alcohol beverages, to be picked up by the customers at a designated parking space that is not part of the retail licensed premises.

Wyoming 

HB13 — Increases the amount of wine that a licensed out-of-state wine shipper may ship to any one household address. Allows Wyoming consumers to receive up to 12 cases of wine in a 12-month period (the former limit was four cases per year).

HB51 — Establishes grant program to meat processing facilities suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HB54 — Focuses efforts and resources of the Wyoming Business Council on developing slaughter plant options for producers.

HB118 — Allows sale of eggs under the state’s Food Freedom Act.

HB156 — Allows winery permit holder to be issued an off-premise wine permit for a 24-hour period.

HB159 — Allows any liquor license holder — who then obtains an out-of-state shipper’s license — to ship alcohol to Wyoming households. Increases satellite permits for liquor manufacturers from one to two.

HB229 — Allows Wyoming ranchers the choice of selecting lawful forms of animal identification devices. Rejects USDA mandate to only use higher-cost RFID ear tags for livestock.

2022 Alt Meat Trends & Challenges

“The landscape of cell-cultured meat, and even microbially fermented animal products, is a complicated place where futuristic technology, ethics, the law and business are all approaching the unknown together,” reads a Forbes article.

 There are at least 60 companies globally now involved with  cell- and fermentation-grown meat, and nearly a billion dollars was invested in the field in 2021 alone. 

Animal-free meat, though,  is facing growing pains. Forbes shares the trends and challenges in the rapidly-growing alternative protein industry. Some of their predictions and observations: 

  • Accelerator and incubator programs will help new companies start.
  • Startups lead the pack, influencing larger companies to invest in their own animal-free lines.
  • Truly animal-free options, as companies develop proprietary methods that don’t require animal input.
  • Knowledge sharing, the trend that more companies will not gatekeep their intellectual property.
  • Production of all “meats,” rather than just beef and chicken. (Companies are developing animal-free foie gras, fish maw and even zebra.)
  • Alt breast milk, using stem cells.
  • Cheaper products, as the higher prices of alternative proteins keep some consumers away.
  • Regulatory challenges, as regulatory agencies debate terminology and labeling requirements.

Read more (Forbes)

After the Covid-19 pandemic shortened their legislative sessions last year, lawmakers across the 50 states had a productive year in 2021. State leaders were able to pass hundreds of bills relating to food, beverages and food service.

Numerous new laws were aimed at helping restaurants survive — permitting permanent outdoor dining spaces, allowing carryout food services and to-go alcohol sales. Many of these regulations had been enacted in 2020 as temporary, emergency measures to aid restaurateurs, but expired this year. 

This year was also big for cottage food laws. As more people experimented in their home kitchens during the pandemic, there was pressure to modernize cottage food laws. Over half the states updated their laws in 2021, regulating sales of homemade food. 

Below are the key food, beverage and food service laws passed this year in, alphabetically, Alabama through Maryland. We’ll feature the balance of the states — Massachusetts to Wyoming — in TFA’s next newsletter (January 12, 2022).

Alabama

HB12 — Extends protections granted for cottage food businesses to include roasted coffees and gluten-free baking mixes.

HB539 — Increases the amount of alcohol which breweries and distilleries can sell to customers for off-premise consumption.

SB126 — Allows licensed state businesses to deliver wine, beer and spirits to customers’ homes.

SB160 — An update to Alabama’s cottage food law, SB160 allows for most non-perishable foods to be made in home-based food businesses without commercial licenses (instead of just only baked goods, jams/jellies, dried herbs and candies). It also removes the $20,000 sales limit for home-based food businesses. It also allows online sales and in-state shipping of products.

SB167 — Permits Alabama wineries to sell directly to consumers at special events. 

SB294 — Authorizes wine manufacturers to sell directly to retailers without a distributor. 

SB397 — Allows opening of wineries in Alabama’s 24 dry counties. The wineries will be allowed to produce and operate in a dry county, but they may not sell on premise.

Alaska

HB22 — Legalizes herd share agreements for the distribution of raw milk in the state.

Arizona

HB2305 — Amends law to allow two or more liquor producers, craft distillers or microbrewery licenses at one location. 

HB2753 — States that licensed producers, craft distillers, brewers and farm wineries are subject to rules and exemptions prescribed by the FDA. Exempts production and storage spaces from state regulation.

HB2773 — Allows bars, liquor stores and restaurants to sell cocktails to-go.

HB2884 — Exempts alcohol produced on premise in liquor-licensed businesses from food safety regulation by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which adds rules regarding production, processing, labeling, storing, handling, serving, transportation and inspection. Specifies that this exemption includes microbreweries, farm wineries and/or craft distilleries.

Arkansas

HB118 — Permits the sale of cottage foods over the internet. Interstate sales are permitted if the producer complies with federal food safety regulations.

HB1228 — Allows for municipalities in dry counties to apply to be an entertainment district, just like in wet counties. 

HB1370 — Establishes mead as an allowed liquor for a small farm winery — and allows wineries to ship mead. Also allows for mead to be taxed in the same manner as wine.

HB1426 — Establishes the Arkansas Fair Food Delivery Act, stating that a food delivery platform (like UberEats) must have an agreement with a restaurant or facility to take food orders and deliver food prepared. 

HB1763 — Allows distilleries to self distribute their own products and allows out-of-state, direct-to-consumer shipments.

HB1845 — Restricts advertising alcohol in microbrewery-restaurants in dry counties.

SB248 — Replaces Arkansas’ cottage food law with the Food Freedom Act. Allows all types of non-perishable foods to be sold almost anywhere without a food safety license and certification, including grocery stores and retail shops. 

SB339 — Allows permitted restaurants to sell on-the-go alcoholic beverages. 

SB479 — Allows restaurants with alcohol beverage permits to expand outdoor dining without approval of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

SB554 — Authorizes beer wholesalers to distribute certain ready-to-drink products.

SB631 — Authorizes a hard cider manufacturer to deliver hard cider. 

California

AB61 — Allows restaurants and bars with alcohol licenses that added temporary, outdoor sidewalk dining spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic to continue serving alcohol in these spaces. 

AB239 — Allows wineries to refill wine bottles at off-site tasting rooms, similar to breweries reusing growlers

AB286 — Requires third-party delivery companies to itemize cost breakdowns of delivery transactions to both restaurants and customers.

AB425 — Updates regulations regarding definitions, assessments, fees and funding mechanisms for the Dairy Council of California. 

AB831 — Mandates that all labels on cottage food must include the disclaimer “Made in a Home Kitchen” along with the producer’s county and cottage food permit number. 

AB941 — Establishes a grant program for counties to apply for farmworker resource centers, supplying farmworkers and their families information on education, housing, payroll, wage rights and health services.

AB962 — Requires the creation of a returnable bottle system in the state by 2024. Allows recyclable bottles to be washed and refilled by beverage producers rather than being crushed for recycling.

AB1144 — Updates California’s outdated cottage food laws, raising sales limit to either $75,000 (Class A permits) or $150,000 (Class B permits) and simplifying the approval process for sampling cottage food products. Also allows homemade food to be sold online.

AB1200 — By 2023, no eatery in California is permitted to distribute or sell food packaging that contains regulated perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. Manufacturers of food packing must use the least toxic alternative when replacing their food packaging. Food packaging includes food or beverage containers, take-out containers, liners, wrappes, eating utensils, straws, disposable plates, bowls and trays.

AB1267 — Allows licensed manufacturers, distributors and sellers of alcoholic beverages to donate a portion of beverage purchases to a nonprofit.

AB1276 — Requires California eateries to only give take-out customers single-use utensils and condiment packets if they ask for them. 

AR15 — Establishes Nov. 22 as Kimchi Day in the state. 

SB19 — Allows wineries to open additional off-site tasting rooms without applying for a new license (former law allowed for only one off-site tasting room).

SB314 — Allows restaurants and bars that added temporary, outdoor sidewalk dining spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic a one-year grace period to apply for permanent expansion. 

 
SB389 — Allows restaurants and bars to serve to-go alcohol alongside a meal. 

SB453 — Establishes an Agricultural Biosecurity Fund specifically for the California State University system’s Agricultural Research Institute. The California State University’s 23 campuses and 8 off-campus branches can then use that fund to apply for grants related to supporting research on agriculture biosecurity, best practices around infectious agents hurting the state’s animal herds and plant crops. 

SB517 — Authorizes a licensed beer manufacturer who obtains a beer direct shipper permit to sell and ship beer directly to a resident of the state for personal use.

SB535 — Makes it unlawful to manufacture or sell imitation olive oil in the state. Also restricts using “California Olive Oil” on a label unless 100% of the oil is derived from olives grown in California. The label can also only share that the oil comes from a specific region of California if at least 85% of the olives were grown in that region.

SB721 — Establishes Aug. 24 as California Farmworker Day.

Colorado

HB1027 — Extends sales of to-go alcohol from licensed restaurants and bars to 2026. 

HB1162 — The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, the law bans single-use plastic bags and containers made from polystyrene (styrofoam) for restaurants and other retailers by 2024. All stores will also implement a 10-cent bag fee for plastic and paper bags by 2023.

SB35 — Prohibits third-party restaurant delivery services from cutting pay to a driver to comply with fee limits. Also prohibits third-party delivery services from putting restaurants on their platforms without the eateries’ permission.

SB235 — Sends the Department of Agriculture $5 million for energy efficiency and soil health programs. 

SB270 — Allows more Colorado wineries, cideries and distillers to attain a pub license and sell a variety of food in addition to their craft beverage. Current law puts small limits on the amount of craft drink made for a brewery to sell food, leaving out larger Colorado producers.

Connecticut

HB5311 — Enables permitted transporter to sell and serve alcohol on boats, motor vehicles and limousines.

HB6610 — Codifies expanded outdoor dining, allowing municipalities to close off streets and sidewalks for outdoor restaurant dining space.

SB894 — Allows patrons to pour their own alcoholic drinks at restaurants and bars. Will allow self-pour automated systems to be used in the state’s dining establishments.

HB6580 — Expands food agricultural literacy programs of study and community outreach, by increasing certification, education and extension programs with rural suburban and urban farms for students in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Delaware

HB1 — Allows restaurants to continue selling to-go alcohol beverages. The bill also allows restaurants and bars to continue using outdoor dining spaces originally used during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HB46 — Allows brewery-pub and microbrewery license holders to brew, bottle and sell hard seltzers and other fermented beverages made from malt substitutes. Also includes a specific tax on fermented beverages.

HB143 — Reduces the amount of licensed taprooms to only one taproom within a ½ mile from another taproom.

HB212 — Increases minimum thickness for plastic bags (used by grocery stores and restaurants) to qualify as a reusable bag from 2.25 mils to 10 mils. 

SB46 — Allows wedding venues and event centers licensed as bottle clubs to allow customers to bring alcoholic beverages on premise.

Florida

HB751 — Authorizes issuance of special licenses to mobile food vehicles to sell alcohol beverages within certain areas.

HB1647 — Allows more Orlando eateries to sell alcohol. Allows eateries with a smaller footprint (80-person capacity; formerly 150-person capacity) to sell beer, wine and spirits in six additional Orlando Main Street Districts. 

SB46 — Increases production limits for distilleries from 75,000 gallons a year to 250,000 gallons. Eliminates the “six bottles per person per brand per year” requirement. Also allows craft distilleries to qualify for a vendor’s license to conduct tastings at Florida’s fairs, trade shows, farmers markets, expositions and festivals. 

SB148 — Authorizes restaurants or bars also holding a public food service license to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages in sealed, to-go containers. 

SB628 — Establishes a new program, the Urban Agriculture Pilot Project, to distinguish between traditional rural farms and emerging urban farms. Exempts farm equipment used in urban agriculture from being stored in certain boundaries. 

SB663 — Updates Florida’s cottage food law to allow shipping of products, and raises the sales limit for shipped cottage food from $50,000 to $250,000. The bill also prevents counties or cities from banning cottage food businesses (Ed. note: Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, prohibits cottage food businesses).

SR2041 — Establishes a Food Waste Prevention Week in the state to acknowledge the importance of conserving food and preventing food waste.

Georgia

HB273 — Allows local municipalities to pass an ordinance, resolution or referendum election to authorize allowing a liquor store to open in their jurisdiction 

HB392 — Allows a person to have a mixed cocktail or draft beer from the hotel delivered to their room by a hotel employee. 

HB498 — Expands eligibility requirements for the state’s tax exemption for agricultural equipment and farm products. Any family-owned farm entity (defined as two or more unrelated, family-owned farms) can now share equipment, land and labor without losing ad valorem tax exemptions enjoyed by stand-alone family farms.

HB676 — Creates a legislative advisory committee on farmers’ markets (Farmers’ Markets Legislative Advisory Committee), made up of five members from the state’s Senate and House.

SR155 — Recognized February 17 as State Restaurant Day.

SB219 — Permits small brewers to sell alcohol for consumption on their premise. Allows state’s breweries to transfer beer between locations.

SB236 — Extends the Covid-era rule that allows restaurants to sell to-go alcohol. 

Hawaii

HB817 — Requires state agencies to purchase an increasing amount of locally grown food.

HB237 — Earmarks $350,000 to the department of agriculture for the mitigation and control of the two-lined spittlebug, which has damaged nearly 2,000-acres of pasture land. 

SB263 — Establishes a “Hawaii Made” program and trademark, to promote Hawaiian-made products.

Idaho

HB51 — Amends existing law to provide nutrient management standards on dairy farms. Allows dairy farmers the option of using phosphorus nutrients.

HB232 — Changes the distribution of tax on high-alcohol-content beer from the state wine commission to the state hop growers commission, helping promote the craft industry.

Illinois

HB2620 — Allows small breweries, meaderies and winemakers to distribute their products to local bars, grocery stores and liquor stores directly rather than through a third party.

HB3490 — Amends Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which says, if a restaurant includes milk as a default beverage in a kid’s meal, the drink must be dairy milk and contain no more than 130 calories per container or serving. 

HB3495 — The Brewers Economic Equity & Relief Act, allows for limited brewpub self-distribution, permanent delivery for small alcohol producers, direct-to-consumer shipping for in-state and out-of-state brewers and distillers and self-distribution for manufacturers producing more than one type of alcohol.

HR33 — Creates the Illinois Good Food Purchasing Policy Task Force to study the current procurement of food within the state and explore how Good Food Purchasing can be implemented to maximize the procurement of healthy foods that are sustainably, locally and equitably sourced.

HR46 — Urges the Illinois Department of Agriculture to study the effects and the types of land loss to Black farmers. Calls for state support and capacity building for Black farming communities across the state and a dedication to helping grow agriculture in rural, urban, and suburban areas. 

HR117 — Urges the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Commerce to increase the exportation of Illinois dairy products to other nations.

SB2007 — The Home-to-Market Act, updates the state’s Illinois Cottage Food Law. Expands sales avenues for cottage food producers, allowing sales at fairs, festivals, home sales, pick-up, delivery and shipping (cottage food was previously only allowed to be sold at farmers markets). 

Indiana

HB1396 — Updates many of Indiana’s outdated alcohol laws, some from the Prohibition Era. Amended various sections of Indiana’s alcohol code impacting permittees, trade regulation and other various definitions.

HB2773 — Allows bars, liquor stores and restaurants to permanently sell to-go alcohol orders, originally allowed temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

SB144 — Allows bulk wine purchasing limits for farm wineries to apply only to wine sold directly to a consumer and not to wine sold through a wholesaler. Also allows the holder of an artisan distiller permit to also hold a distiller’s permit. 

SB185 — Creates a working group made up of industry organizations, food safety experts, Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana State Board of Animal Health and Indiana State Department of Agriculture to submit recommendations to the state concerning home-based vendors and cottage food laws.

Iowa

HB384 — Updates rules regarding alcohol licenses. Lengthens the hours of sale for alcoholic beverages on Sunday.

HF766 — Allows home delivery of alcoholic beverages from bars and restaurants by third-party delivery services, such as Uber or DoorDash.

Kansas

HB2137 — Allows bars, liquor stores and restaurants to permanently sell to-go alcohol orders, originally allowed temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Kentucky

HR3 — Recognizes March 23 as Agricultural Day in the state.

HR19 — Recognizes June as Dairy Month, honoring the state’s dairy workers.

SB15 — Allows a microbrewery licensee to sell and deliver up to 2,500 barrels of product to any retail licensee and to set forth terms of contracts between microbrewers and distributors. 

SB67 — Allows bars, liquor stores and restaurants to permanently sell to-go alcohol orders, originally allowed temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic. 


Louisiana

HB192 — Authorizes credit card payment to manufacturers and wholesale dealers of alcoholic beverages (when previously cash was only allowed). 

HB219 — Allows the delivery of ready-to-drink alcohol beverages (sold in manufacturer sealed containers), allowing brewers with a brewing facility to self-distribute. 

HB269 — Allows authorized state employees to destroy meat, seafood, poultry, vegetables, fruit or other perishable food of foreign origin which are subject of a current import ban from the federal government. 

HB291 — Allows self-distribution to any brewer who operates a brewing facility in the state.

HB706 — Adds microwinery to microdistillery permits.

HR104 — Designates May 19, 2021, as Louisiana Craft Brewers’ Day in the state.

HR210 — Authorizes a state subcommittee to study and make recommendations to the government on the regulation of the growing craft brewing industry in the state. 

Maine

SB133 — Clarifies that licensed Maine manufacturers of spirits, wine, malt liquor and low-alcohol spirits products may sell and ship their products to a person located in another state.

SB205 — Allows bars and restaurants to permanently sell to-go alcohol orders through take-out and delivery services if the liquor is accompanied by a food order. Also temporarily permits licensed Maine distilleries that operate tasting rooms but do not operate licensed on-premise retail to sell spirits through take-out and delivery services accompanied by a food order.

SB306 — Temporarily waives certain requirements for relicensing for restaurants that serve liquor to help food establishments during the Covid-19 pandemic.

SB307 — Allows all Maine alcohol manufacturers to sell directly to out-of-state consumers (current law only allows wine to be sold out-of-state). 

SB479 — Amends definition of “low-alcohol spirits product” by raising the maximum alcohol level of a low-alcohol spirits product from 8% to 15%. 

SB630 — Prohibits shelf-stable products from being sold as cider. Products that do not require refrigeration or are heat-treated cannot be labeled as cider.

SB636 — Establishes the Local Foods Fund, which helps schools purchase produce and other minimally processed foods from local farmers and producers. 

SB822 — An act affirming that food seeds are a necessity in the state.

Maryland

HB185 — Prohibits an alcoholic beverages license holder from requiring that an individual buy more than one bottle, container or other serving of alcohol at a time. 

HB264 — Requires entities that generate at least two tons of organic waste per week to arrange for disposal alternatives, like reduction, donation, animal feed or composting.

HB269 — Establishes the Urban Agriculture Grant Program in the Department of Agriculture to increase the viability of urban farming and improve access to urban-grown foods. 

HB 555 — Repeals a prohibition on allowing drugstores to apply for a liquor license. 

HB1232 — Codifies emergency orders to grant permanent to-go delivery of alcohol and online shipment privileges.

SB205 — Authorizes local alcoholic beverage licensing boards to temporarily allow restaurants and bars to sell to-go alcoholic beverages. Also requires Maryland’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and the Maryland Department of Health to study expanding alcohol access.

SB821 — Codifies the governor’s 2020 executive order to grant alcohol delivery and shipment. Also allows permitting to serve alcohol at off-premise, special events. 

Microbes on our bodies outnumber our human cells. Can we improve our health using microbes?

“(Humans) are minuscule compared to the genetic content of our microbiomes,” says Maria Marco, PhD, professor of food science at the University of California, Davis (and a TFA Advisory Board Member). “We now have a much better handle that microbes are good for us.” 

Marco was a featured speaker at an Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS) webinar, “What’s What?! Probiotics, Postbiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics and Fermented Foods.” Also speaking was Karen Scott, PhD, professor at University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and co-director of the university’s Centre for Bacteria in Health and Disease.

While probiotic-containing foods and supplements have been around for decades – or, in the case of fermented foods, tens of thousands of years – they have become more common recently . But “as the terms relevant to this space proliferate, so does confusion,” states IAFNS. 

Using definitions created by the International Scientific Association for Postbiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), Marco and Scott presented the attributes of fermented foods, probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics and postbiotics.  

The majority of microbes in the human body are in the digestive tract, Marco notes: “We have frankly very few ways we can direct them towards what we need for sustaining our health and well being.” Humans can’t control age or genetics and have little impact over environmental factors. 

What we can control, though, are the kinds of foods, beverages and supplements we consume.

Fermented Foods

It’s estimated that one third of the human diet globally is made up of fermented foods. But this is a diverse category that shares one common element: “Fermented foods are made by microbes,” Marco adds. “You can’t have a fermented food without a microbe.”

This distinction separates true fermented foods from those that look fermented but don’t have microbes involved. Quick pickles or cucumbers soaked in a vinegar brine, for example, are not fermented. And there are fermented foods that originally contained live microbes,  but where those microbes are killed during production — in sourdough bread, shelf-stable pickles and veggies, sausage, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, most beers, coffee and chocolate. Fermented foods that contain live, viable microbes include yogurt, kefir, most cheeses, natto, tempeh, kimchi, dry fermented sausages, most kombuchas and some beers. 

“There’s confusion among scientists and the public about what is a fermented food,” Marco says.

Fermented foods provide health benefits by transforming food ingredients, synthesizing nutrients and providing live microbes.There is some evidence  they aid digestive health (kefir, sourdough), improve mood and behavior (wine, beer, coffee), reduce inflammatory bowel syndrome (sauerkraut, sourdough), aid weight loss and fight obesity (yogurt, kimchi), and enhance immunity (kimchi, yogurt), bone health (yogurt, kefir, natto) and the cardiovascular system (yogurt, cheese, coffee, wine, beer, vinegar). But there are only a few studies on humans  that have examined these topics. More studies of fermented foods are needed to document and prove these benefits.

Probiotics 

Probiotics, on the other hand, have clinical evidence documenting their health benefits. “We know probiotics improve human health,” Marco says. 

The concept of probiotics dates back to the early 20th century, but the word “probiotic” has now become a household term. Most scientific studies involving probiotics look at their benefit to the digestive tract, but new research is examining their impact on the respiratory system and in aiding vaginal health.

Probiotics are different from fermented foods because they are defined at the strain level and their genomic sequence is known, Marco adds. Probiotics should be alive at the time of consumption in order to provide a health benefit.

Postbiotics

Postbiotics are dead microorganisms. It is a relatively new term — also referred to as parabiotics, non-viable probiotics, heat-killed probiotics and tyndallized probiotics — and there’s emerging research around the health benefits of consuming these inanimate cells. 

“I think we’ll be seeing a lot more attention to this concept as we begin to understand how probiotics work and gut microbiomes work and the specific compounds needed to modulate our health,” according to Marco.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are, according to ISAPP, “A substrate selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit on the host.”

“It basically means a food source for microorganisms that live in or on a source,” Scott says. “But any candidate for a prebiotic must confer a health benefit.”

Prebiotics are not processed in the small intestine. They reach the large intestine undigested, where they serve as nutrients for beneficial microorganisms in our gut microbiome.

Synbiotics

Synbiotics are mixtures of probiotics and prebiotics and stimulate a host’s resident bacteria. They are composed of live microorganisms and substrates that demonstrate a health benefit when combined.

Scott notes that, in human trials with probiotics, none of the currently recognized probiotic species (like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) appear in fecal samples existing probiotics.

“There must be something missing in what we’re doing in this field,” she says. “We need new probiotics. I’m not saying existing probiotics don’t work or we shouldn’t use them. But I think that now that we have the potential to develop new probiotics, they might be even better than what we have now.”

She sees great potential in this new class of -biotics. 

Both Scott and Marco encouraged nutritionists to work with clients on first  improving their diets before adding supplements. The -biotics stimulate what’s in the gut, so a diverse diet is the best starting point.

Brands need to be extra vigilant over the health claims they put on their labels. A simple phrase like “Supports immunity,” “Aids respiratory health” or “Full of natural flavors” could result in a lawsuit from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or a state attorney general.

“The FDA is able to set very broad and very narrow regulations in terms of what our labels can look like, what can be included in the products, what kind of claims we can make for the products, who the products can be distributed too, how they can be imported and exported and the like,” says Claudia Lewis, partner at Venable LLP, a Washington D.C.-based law firm.

Complying with these sometimes archaic laws can be challenging. The FDA, which ensures food safety, has a large jurisdictional footprint, regulating about 30 cents of every dollar Americans spend. The FTC is the authority on advertising and marketing claims for food, beverage and supplement products, and it may challenge a food brand if its marketing is deemed false, deceptive and/or misleading.

“Typically, if you’re in an FTC investigation, you’re going to have at least $300,000 in legal fees by the time you’re finished, if not over half a million dollars,” says Todd Harrison, partner at Venable. “The FTC is a very expensive regulatory agency to deal with. They can make your life pretty miserable.”

Harrison and Lewis specialize in representing functional food brands at their law firm and spoke at Expo East on the topic of Legal and Regulatory State of the Natural Products Industry. [The Fermentation Association’s virtual conference, FERMENTATION 2021 will also cover this and related topics — please check our Agenda for the latest sessions and speakers.]

Harrison and Lewis reviewed two main areas where improper labeling can get a food brand into trouble with regulators.

Using Covid-19 as a Marketing Tool

Shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic started, the FDA offered a unique relaxation of their rules and regulations for food products. Brands were challenged with supply chain disruptions and ingredient shortages. The FDA allowed temporary ingredient and formulation changes without a label overhaul, as long as the new ingredient was non-allergenic, 2% or less of the weight of the finished product, not a main or characterizing ingredient and not affecting health claims.

Though the temporary rule allows for flexibility, Harrison advises it still leaves room for litigation. Plaintiff attorneys can still sue for changes in a product’s flavor. 

“Minor changes are fine from an FDA perspective, but not necessarily good from a plaintiff perspective,” he adds. 

Covid-19 has also spurred a gray area in food marketing claims. Labels claiming the product prevents, treats or mitigates Covid-19 are illegal and being “aggressively pursued.”

“Anytime you mention the word coronavirus or Covid, the FDA is not going to agree with what you say because everyone will think you’re somehow implying something,” Harrison says. 

Context is critical, as the agency is cracking down on any brands making health claims implying their product could prevent Covid. Brands using the phrases “immunity support” or “immune boosting” on their labels — or even on their social media pages — could be targeted by the FDA.

“The FDA has historically not liked (brands to use the term) immunity, but it was always low risk (pre-pandemic), you’d likely get a warning letter,” Harrison says. “However, in the world we live in today, the word immunity is persona non grata to the agency. Especially if you add the word respiratory on it. If you put the words ‘immunity’ and ‘respiratory’ on a label, the agency is saying ‘It’s Covid.’”

Harrison also cautions against connecting science-backed supplements and vitamins to treating a Covid infection. He uses the example of vitamin D — plentiful scientific research proves vitamin D boosts immunity, but a food brand cannot legally make that association, and doing so can set it up for litigation. Though vitamin D “is a cheap way of helping reduce your risk of (Covid-19) severity, it’s not going to keep you from getting Covid,” Harrison explains. “The way the paradigm is set up, even if you have really good science in your favor, you can’t make the claim unless you have approval by the FDA.” 

“Natural” and “Health Food” Still Debatable Terms

Because there is no FDA or FTC definition of “natural,” lawsuits against brands claiming their product is natural or similar claims are prevalent. (The FDA requested public comments on the term “natural” in 2016, but no rule was issued on the policy.)

And these lawsuits don’t always come from the federal agencies. Class action lawsuits are “still alive and well,” Lewis adds. A formal definition would help protect brands because plaintiffs are filling in the holes and filing costly lawsuits. She uses the example of Welch’s Fruit Snacks, which was sued for being “more candy than fruit.”

“The plaintiffs bar has seized on that and taken these companies to task,” she says. “This wording about ‘healthy’ and this wording of ‘natural’ is also taking on a different dynamic because of consumer perception. How consumers perceive these words and how consumers’ expectations are not keeping with FDA regulations, but the plaintiff bar is using that as an opening and getting pretty good settlements in connection with consumer perception.”

Making a health inference is a slippery slope. The FDA deems a healthy food as one that suggests the product can help maintain “healthy dietary practices.” Health foods are required to be low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.One or more qualifying nutrients must also make up at least 10% of their weight..

For example, IZZE, makers of sparkling juices, was sued for misleading marketing because, though the drink advertised “no sugar added,” it failed to disclose it was not low in calories — a requirement under FDA regulations. Harrison takes issue with the FDA defining healthy in these confusing terms. 

“I’d say it’s unconstitutional and I think I’d win that case because healthy is now low fat, low saturated food and a certain amount of macronutrients. It’s a much more complex question than that. But yet this is what plaintiff attorneys seize on,” Harrison says.

Though a new food product may be utilizing health ingredients on the cutting edge of scientific research, Harrison warns the FDA is “notoriously behind nutrition science” and brands need to be careful. He says don’t trust the government agency to keep up.

“Nutrition has evolved and continues to evolve,” he says, noting the FDA regulation to put “low fat” as a nutrient content claim just stripped fat out of food (including beneficial fat) and replaced it with simple carbohydrates. Most members of Congress “don’t know a damn thing” about health food. “We know what’s good for us. We’re not stupid people.” 

Sales of natural and organic products grew nearly 13% to $259 billion in 2020 , “despite the pandemic and, in some ways, because of the pandemic.”

“It’s very strong and, in many ways, it’s never been stronger,” says Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of the New Hope Network (producers of the event). Between pandemic-driven pantry loading, new brand exploration and the drive to purchase healthier, natural products, “people tried those new brands and, in many cases, they stuck with them, especially across the food and beverage categories.”

Mast shared these stats during the State of the Natural & Organic presentation at Natural Products Expo East. But forecasts show sales growing at a slower pace this year, to $271 billion. By 2023, sales are projected to surpass $300 billion.

Natural foods and beverages (including most fermented products) account for 70% of all natural product sales (the rest includes items like supplements and home and pet care products). Natural products are growing three times as fast as their mainstream counterparts.

“Not only were we growing quickly, we were outpacing the rest of the store…not only did our sales accelerate, they drove the whole (food) industry forward,” says Kathryn Peters, executive vice president at SPINS (a data provider for natural, organic and specialty products). “We’re finding consumers are coming and staying and continuing to buy more.”

Expo East Returns In-Person

Expo East is the first major food trade show to meet in-person since the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered events in March 2020. New Hope Network used a hybrid virtual and in-person model to produce the show, live-streaming the conference portion to virtual attendees.

“It was really exciting and satisfying to be back on a live show floor, interacting with people again. There was a real buzz,” says Chris Nemchek, TFA’s buyer relations director. “On day 1, you could tell there was a lot of pent-up demand.”

Health precautions were increased. Attendees had to show a Covid-19 vaccination card or a negative Covid-19 test administered within 72 hours. Masks were mandatory. Badges were no longer distributed to all attendees, only being printed upon request.

Food sampling, too, was much different than at a typical pre-pandemic trade show. Samples were only given by a gloved brand representative at an exhibitor’s booth. Food was stored behind sneeze guards, and surfaces were wiped down frequently.

“Exhibitors gave away less product, but the product they did give away was for more productive reasons — the people who took the sample really wanted it,” Nemchek notes.

“It was a good step back towards normal, but it wasn’t normal,” he adds. The size of the crowd at the show was not close to pre-pandemic levels (attendance numbers have not been released). But Nemchek notes that New Hope should still be pleased. “There’s now more confidence in the industry in putting on a food show again.”

Immune Health Driving Purchases

The natural and organic industry’s most popular products continue to be ones supporting immunity, health and wellness. Those attributes were consumer’s top purchase priorities in 2020, and remain strong in 2021.

Paleo (+25%), grain-free (+17%) and plant-based (+13%) foods and beverages registered the strongest sales growth. Plant-based products have seen especially strong sales over the past two years.

“Covid was a major driver for this boost in sales growth,” Mast says. Now “it’s our opportunity to keep those consumers.”

Consumers are exploring how they can use their diet as the first line of defense against illness, Peters adds. Immunity-related ingredients traditionally found on the supplement aisle, like cider vinegar, collagen, elderberry, moringa and ashwagandha,are now in grocery and refrigerated products.

“It’s revolutionizing the aisles in the store,” Peters says.

Changing Grocery Store Shelves

The U.S. is diversifying faster than predicted as well, and those demographic changes are influencing what’s selling. International foods are outperforming in grocery sales, growing at a 21% rate (compared with U.S. food at 16%).

“This is a huge shift for our country,” Mast says. “We’re seeing that, across our industry, more consumers are looking for that multicultural food.”

Mast notes, though, that leadership of the natural and organic products industry does not reflect the U.S. population.More BIPOC representation is needed on i company boards and leadership teams.

Shopping with Values

Consumers’ social and environmental values are also driving purchasing behavior. A survey by Nutrition Business Journal and SPINS found 76% of natural shoppers pay more for high-quality ingredients, 57% avoid buying food grown on industrial feedlots or chemical-intensive farms and 53% will pay more to support businesses that are socially- or environmentally-responsible. Consumers want companies to take social and political stances that reflect their own values.

“Our industry, because of our size, our scale and our influence, we could truly help create solutions to these problems and be part of building that new future,” Mast adds. “Think about the changes that we could help create for people, animal, planet — but it’s if we chose to do so.”

Supplements vs. Fermented Foods

Two UCLA professors of medicine encourage people “rather than thinking in terms of supplements, add some fermented foods to your diet.” In a Q&A, the doctors say the popularity of probiotics, postbiotics and the gut microbiome has blurred their value, despite the plethora of reputable scientific research. Product manufacturers — as has happened before, with terms like “gluten-free” — have begun labelling everything as containing -biotics or benefitting the gut microbiome.

“The word probiotics refers to the beneficial microbes found in certain fermented foods and beverages, as well [as] in specially formulated nutritional supplements,” write UCLA doctors Eve Glazier and Elizabeth Ko. “That means that any fermented food that contains or was made by live bacteria contains postbiotics. … Initial findings suggest that postbiotics may play a role in maintaining a balanced and robust immune system, support digestive health and help to manage the health of the gut microbiome.”

Read more (Journal Review)

A new peer-reviewed study from researchers at the University of Illinois and Ohio State University found 66% of commercial kefir products overstated probiotic count and “contained species not included on the label.”

Kefir, widely consumed in Europe and the Middle East, is growing in popularity in the U.S. Researchers  examined the bacterial content of five kefir brands. Their results, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, challenge the “probiotic punch” the labels claim.

“Our study shows better quality control of kefir products is required to demonstrate and understand their potential health benefits,” says Kelly Swanson, professor in human nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois. “It is important for consumers to know the accurate contents of the fermented foods they consume.”

Probiotics in fermented products are listed in colony-forming units (CFUs). The more probiotics, the greater the health benefit. 

According to a news release from the University of Illinois: “Most companies guarantee minimum counts of at least a billion bacteria per gram, with many claiming up to 10 or 100 billion. Because food-fermenting microorganisms have a long history of use, are non-pathogenic, and do not produce harmful substances, they are considered ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and require no further approvals for use. That means companies are free to make claims about bacteria count with little regulation or oversight.”

To perform the study, the researchers bought two bottles of each of five major kefir brands. Bottles were brought to the lab where bacterial cells were counted and bacterial species identified. Only one of the brands studied had the amount of probiotics listed on its label. 

“Just like probiotics, the health benefits of kefirs and other fermented foods will largely be dependent on the type and density of microorganisms present,” Swanson says. “With trillions of bacteria already inhabiting the gut, billions are usually necessary for health promotion. These product shortcomings in regard to bacterial counts will most certainly reduce their likelihood of providing benefits.”

The news release continues:

When the research team compared the bacteria in their samples against the ones listed on the label, there were distinct discrepancies. Some species were missing altogether, while others were present but unlisted. All five products contained, but didn’t list, Streptococcus salivarius. And four out of five contained Lactobacillus paracasei.

Both species are common starter strains in the production of yogurts and other fermented foods. Because those bacteria are relatively safe and may contribute to the health benefits of fermented foods, Swanson says it’s not clear why they aren’t listed on the labels.

Although the study only tested five products, Swanson suggests the results are emblematic of a larger issue in the fermented foods market.

“Even though fermented foods and beverages have been important components of the human food supply for thousands of years, few well-designed studies on their composition and health benefits have been conducted outside of yogurt. Our results underscore just how important it is to study these products,” he says. “And given the absence of regulatory scrutiny, consumers should be wary and demand better-quality commercial fermented foods.”

After Dr. Bob Hutkins finished a presentation on fermented foods during a respected nutrition conference, the first audience question was from someone with a PhD in nutrition: “What are fermented foods?”

“I thought ‘Doesn’t everyone know what fermentation is?’ I realized, we do need a definition. Those of us that work in this field know what we’re talking about when we say fermented foods, but even people trained in foods do not understand this concept,” says Hutkins, a professor of food science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He presented The New Definition of Fermented Foods during a webinar with TFA

Hutkins was part of a 13-member interdisciplinary panel of scientists that released a consensus definition on fermented foods. Their research, published this month in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, defines fermented foods as: “foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components.”

“We needed a definition that conveyed this simple message of a raw food turning into a fermented food via microorganisms,” Hutkins says. “It brings some clarity to many of these issues that, frankly, people are confused about.”

David Ehreth, president and founder of Alexander Valley Gourmet, parent company of Sonoma Brinery (and a TFA Advisory Board member), agreed that an expert definition was necessary.

“As a producer, and having started this effort to put live culture products on the standard grocery shelf, I started doing it as a result of unique flavors that I could achieve through fermentation that weren’t present in acidified products,” Ehreth says. “Since many of us put this on our labels, we should be paying close attention to what these folks are doing, since they are the scientific backbone of our industry.”

Hutkins calls fermented foods “the original shelf-stable foods.” They’ve been used by humankind for over thousands of years, but have mushroomed in popularity in the last 15. Fermented foods check many boxes for hot food trends: artisanal, local, organic, natural, healthy, flavorful, sustainable, innovative, hip, funky, chic, cool and Instagram-worthy.

Nutrition, Hutkins hypothesizes, is a big driver of the public’s interest in fermentation. He noted that Today’s Dietitian has voted fermented foods a top superfood for the past four years. 

Evidence to make bold claims about the health benefits of fermentation, though, is lacking. Hutkins says there is observational and epidemiological evidence. But randomized, human clinical trials — “the highest evidence one can rely on” — are few and small-scale for fermented foods. 

Hutkins shared some research results. One study found that Korean elders who regularly consume kimchi harbor lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in their GI tract, providing compelling evidence that LAB survives digestion and reaches the gut. Another study of cultured dairy products, cheese, fermented vegetables, Asian fermented products and fermented drinks found that most contain over 10 million LAB per gram. 

Still, the lack of credible studies is “a barrier we have to get past,” Hutkins says. There are confirmed health benefits with yogurt and kefir, but this research was funded by the dairy industry, a large trade group with significant resources. 

“I think there’s enough evidence — most of it through these associated studies — to warrant this statement: fermented foods, including those that contain live microorganisms, should be included as part of a healthy diet.”