Business Bites: Spanish seafood giant gets ink in its eye over octopus farming fiasco

6 steaming news sliders: Nueva Pescanova faces near-universal backlash over world’s first commercial octopus farm; Lunchables may contain health hazards beyond sodium content; product development firm Mattson expands its Midwest footprint with Chicago’s Hyde Park Group; and more.

8 Min Read
common octopus

At a Glance

  • Nueva Pescanova’s plans to build the first commercial octopus farm may soon grind to a halt.
  • Lead and cadmium, among other health hazards, are present in lunch kit products for children, according to Consumer Reports.
  • Mattson’s acquisition of Hyde Park Group could usher in “the future of food.”

Spanish seafood company Nueva Pescanova tried to take on the cephalopods — and appears to be losing. With widespread complaints about its project to build the world’s first commercial octopus farm, ranging from animal cruelty to public health concerns, the company was already fighting an uphill battle; now, the Canary Islands government has deemed it untenable. Meanwhile, Lunchables may contain toxic substances, and product development firm Mattson expands its operations with the acquisition of Chicago’s popular Hyde Park Group, uniting two powerful forces in food.

World’s first octopus farm deemed inadequate by Spanish government

Octopuses are magnificent creatures — whether observed in wildlife or artistically on a plate. The latter is one of the reasons Spanish seafood company Nueva Pescanova initiated a plan to build the world’s first commercial octopus farm, spanning around 567,000 square feet, along a dock at the Port of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria in Spain. Those grandiose plans, however, could come to a halt very soon. New documents show the proposed facility, which was introduced several years ago and has been protested by more than 110 international organizations/individuals, poses animal cruelty, wildlife, environmental and public health concerns. For one, the company plans to house the eight-limbed mollusks — 100 common octopuses (Octopus vulgaris): 30 females and 70 males — in large tanks to begin production. Once eggs are created, they will be moved to different-sized tanks throughout their life span (3-4 months) to accommodate their growth until they’re slaughtered. The company will also use its own breeding system to raise the octopuses in captivity, with plans to feed the carnivorous sea creatures “a diet formulated based on byproducts and discards from fishing, as well as raw materials of marine origin certified as sustainable,” as reported by NPR.

Nueva Pescanova conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the tentative farm, which was recently deemed “insufficient” by the Canary Islands Government because of its:

  • Threat to local wildlife, including dolphins and turtles, because of the estimated noise and water pollution due to its close proximity to a Marine Protected Area (AREA).

  • Pose of a public health risk by using nearby seawater, which is “not of a high enough quality to be used for human food production.”

  • Potential air pollution/contamination from carbon monoxide, emissions, as well as odor concerns and discharges that “could significantly contribute to the already highly contaminated harbor waters.”

  • under Annex I of the Bern Convention, which is present in the proposed location’s surroundings.

  • “Highly unsustainable practices,” including the use of wild fish as food for the octopuses and high-energy consumption of the facility.

“Nueva Pescanova’s environmental report was inadequate, lacking basic information to allow the government to assess the impact of the farm on the environment and public health,” Maria Angeles López Lax, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the team at Legal Natura which examined the documents, said. “It’s up to the company to prove that the farm would not impact on protected species or risk public health before permission can be granted, yet the company has failed to address even the most basic of these concerns.”

International nonprofits, including Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), Eurogroup for Animals and AnimaNaturalis, have openly opposed the farm in various articles and reports since it was proposed years ago. The groups have also petitioned Canary Islands President Fernando Clavijo Batlle to reject the seafood company’s plan in a recent letter, which was signed by about 75 organizations and experts.

Nueva Pescanova currently operates four different seafood farms throughout Central America, South America and Europe, where it produces and distributes whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and turbot (Scophthalmus maximus). Despite the international backlash it has received, it claims the octopus farm will be sustainable and beneficial because of the company’s current, successful farming initiatives (including one of which is located nearby in Spain).


Lunchables contain high amounts of cadmium, lead, says Consumer Reports

In findings that will surprise no one, Consumer Reports has discovered high amounts of sodium in ultra-processed Lunchables from The Kraft Heinz Co. and similar products from Armour & Co., Oscar Mayer and more. What’s even more concerning, however, is that these products, marketed for children, may contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium.

The report states that although these substances do occur in nature, they can also result from modern food processing techniques, which often involve adding artificial flavors and preservatives. A growing body of research suggests that overexposure to many of these chemicals can cause health issues in kids and adults.

Something to remember is that none of the lunch kits exceeded any federal legal limit, but that may be because those limits are not very strict, according to Consumer Reports. As such, the testers used California’s Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) for lead and cadmium, and five of the 12 products tested contained MADLs of 50% or more. Most also contained phthalates, or the chemicals that make plastics so delightfully durable. Delish.


Mattson acquires Hyde Park Group

Food and beverage product development firm Mattson is venturing outside of California and expanding its footprint in the Midwest. The company, which has developed food and beverage products for a range of clients over the last 46 years, recently acquired Chicago-based Hyde Park Group Food Innovation (HPG), a consultancy that helps CPG companies create new products with improved taste, nutrition and presentation. For the last two decades, HPG Founder and Principal Mary Haderlein has developed concepts and recipes for CPGs and chain restaurants, working with high-profile and James Beard and Michelin award-winning chefs in the Chicago area, including Dan Smith, Matthias Merges, Gale Grand and Leigh Omilinsky. In the new partnership, Haderlein and her team will contribute advice and innovation services to the Mattson team “to help clients create the future of food.” Mattson’s team of food scientists, scale-up specialist, analysts and strategists will join HPG’s team to offer artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced innovation services for CPGs, restaurant chains, B2B foodservice and ingredient companies, as well as startups.

“What’s great about working for the group is that I get to see another side of the food industry,” Leigh Omilinsky, executive pastry chef and partner of Daisies Restaurant & Market, said. “It has been so interesting seeing how much time and energy goes into each product that we see on the shelves every day.”

Matthias Merges, executive chef of Folkart Management, added, “Working with Mary Haderlein and the Hyde Park Group for eight years on many diverse projects in the food world has created a unique space for collaboration, from new product formulation, menu design to food manufacturing. Mary and her team perfectly marry real-time trends and consumer data with chefs who are top in class throughout the U.S. and beyond.”


Kerry increases “saltiness” while reducing sodium in snacks

In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) began developing global benchmarks for sodium levels in foods, with the goal of reducing salt intake and providing more transparency in labeling worldwide. Kerry Group evidently took these recommendations to heart and developed Tastesense Salt, a substitute for the popular seasoning that reportedly adds “succulence, intensity and taste dimension” while contributing to a clean label and reducing salt content by up to 60%. According to Kerry, Tastesense Salt lacks the bitter aftertaste of many alternatives and is available as a singular solution (for sprinkling on fries and the like) or as part of a system (imagine a combo meat seasoning shaker). What remains unclear is what precisely Tastesense Salt is if it isn’t salt. The formula is proprietary, but a company representative said the product “is a natural flavor with no nutritional contribution to a finished product.”


IFT FIRST returns to Chicago in July

Are you a food scientist or product developer looking to learn more about trends and topics affecting the current food and beverage landscape? If so, IFT FIRST is one of the summer’s most notable attractions. The annual global food science show, taking place July 14-17 at McCormick Place in Chicago, is hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). With a robust schedule of scientific programming and valuable networking opportunities, it unites the top industry and government professionals. This year’s educational sessions will delve into the future of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and federal legislation, how artificial intelligence (AI) will transform food innovation, why collaboration is critical in the Food is Medicine movement, and the truth about ultra-processed foods.

“We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to conquer the many challenges facing our food system today and in the future,” Christie Tarantino-Dean, CEO of IFT, said. “Representing key regulatory agencies, disruptive consumer and B2B businesses, and innovative initiatives, the keynoters and speakers at IFT FIRST are at the cutting-edge of several facets of our global food system.”

Discounted registration rates are offered until April 19. To register, click here.

Conagra to close Wisconsin processing plant, cut more than 250 jobs

On April 8, more than 250 workers at the Birds Eye processing plant in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, were notified that they’d soon need to find other employment. Conagra Brands, which also sells food under popular names like Slim Jim, Marie Callender’s and Reddi-wip, announced in a letter to the Department of Workforce Development that it has decided to close the facility, which produces vegetables, in June 2024, with warehouse operations stopping by January 2025. None of the affected employees are represented by a union or have “bumping rights,” which refers to specific systems of job reassignment. In short, these employees are out of luck — unless other food processors out there are looking for skilled labor. Strangely, Birds Eye announced it would be expanding the facility in 2019, adding more than 100 jobs, but Conagra now claims frozen food sales fell for the fourth consecutive quarter and that this closure will streamline its supply chain. Perhaps frozen veggies are on their way out.

About the Author(s)

Heather Carter

Associate editor, Food & Beverage Insider

With over a decade of diverse professional experience under her belt, Heather has journeyed from the bustling world of local news reporting to the intricate realms of trade publishing. She has covered a wide array of topics, ranging from architecture and design to the food and beverage industry.

During her illustrious career, Heather also ventured into the realm of public relations, where she gleaned invaluable insights into the art of strategic communication and brand storytelling. Yet, her heart has always been anchored in the vibrant world of F&B, a passion deeply ingrained in her roots as the daughter of a seasoned chef. She has always held a profound appreciation for the role food plays in shaping cultures and connecting people.

With each story she tells, Heather seeks to illuminate the profound impact of food and beverage on people’s lives, celebrating its ability to evoke emotions, foster connections and weave the fabric of our shared human experience.

As Food & Beverage Insider's associate editor, she co-publishes a weekly news column, Business Bites, which showcases the latest industry news, highlighting key business updates, food and beverage innovation, industry events and more. Some of her other articles touch on important topics, such as ultra-processed foods, plant-based foods primed to change the food landscape, international flavors and ingredients, as well as better-for-you CPGs. She also frequently covers top trends at various industry events and has moderated first-of-their-kind education sessions at Informa events.

She can be reached at [email protected].

Scott Miller

Staff writer, Food & Beverage Insider

Scott Miller brings two decades of experience as a writer, editor, and communications specialist to Food & Beverage Insider. He’s done a little of everything, from walking a beat as a freelance journalist to taking the Big Red Pen to massive technical volumes. He even ran a professional brewing industry website for several years, leveling up content delivery during an era when everyone had a blog.

Since starting at Food & Beverage Insider, he’s written pieces on the price of greenwashing (and how to avoid it), debunked studies that served little to no purpose (other than upsetting the public) and explained the benefits of caffeine alternatives, along with various other stories on trends and events.

Scott is particularly interested in how science, technology and industry are converging to answer tomorrow’s big questions about food insecurity, climate change and more.

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