Weekend on a Plate

The bank holiday weekend digested: robotic pickers and cannibal pheasants

The news, reviews and trends from May 25-27, including the mooted sale of Mr Kipling and the war of words between Ocado's founders. 

28 May 2019
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Food news

Robocrop

Fieldwork Robotics has developed a fruit picker that can harvest 25,000 berries a day – around 10,000 more berries than a human can manage in an eight-hour shift. The Guardian reports that the 1.8m-tall machine was developed to pick raspberries, but has also been tested on tomatoes and cauliflower. It is expected to go into production next month and will be leased to farmers for less than the cost of hiring seasonal workers, who are in short supply in Britain.

 

Jamie Oliver rejected deal to save restaurants

“Jamie Oliver spurned a multimillion-pound deal to rescue his restaurant empire after being asked to write off his loans to it,” reveals The Telegraph. The paper claims that German investment firm Aurelius were willing to invest money to turn the business around – provided that Oliver forfeited the £13m of his personal fortune that he had pumped into the company to try and save it and agreed to commit himself to promoting the brand going forward.

 

A slice of the Premier Foods cake

Premier Foods is considering a sale of its Mr Kipling cake brand, as shareholder pressure is forcing the company to re-evaluate its structure in hopes of driving growth and reducing debt, reports The Sunday Telegraph.

 

Unfair game

The UK’s largest game hatchery is in the crosshairs of animal activists after it was uncovered that dead pheasants had been left in cages “long enough to be partially eaten by other birds.” Animal Aid alleges that Bettws Hall Game Farm is in violation of the animal welfare code and wants routine inspections to become the norm, according to The Times. “The Food Standards Agency regime for auditing slaughterhouses is certainly more thorough than the virtually non-existent one for game bird farms, even if it is insufficient from our perspective,” said Animal Aid.

image credit: Getty Images

Domino’s ad spend to be audited

It seems that the next episode in the drama between Domino’s and its franchisees will centre on ad spending. The Domino’s Franchise Association, which represents the majority of operators in the UK and Ireland, has asked KPMG to look into how money paid into the “national advertising fund” is being spent by the brand, according to The Sunday Times.

 

Ocado founders savage one another

In other somewhat tawdry news, The Sunday Times digs into the war of words between Ocado’s creators, which erupted following the news that co-founder Jonathan Faiman, who left the business in 2010, has teamed up with Waitrose to help it build its online delivery service. Waitrose formerly supplied groceries to Ocado, but the online retailer decided to forge a new deal with M&S in February after things with Waitrose went sour. Faiman alleges that fellow founder Gissing has sent him “horrible threats” following his decision to join team Waitrose, while Gissing reportedly called Faiman a “disloyal c***.”

 

Cereal start-up gets investor boost

Organic, vegan and gluten-free, Primrose’s Kitchen makes cereals and mueslis that include flavours like beetroot and ginger as well as turmeric and banana. The start-up is currently in the spotlight after Andy Cosslett (chairman of B&Q owner Kingfisher), adventurer Sir David Hempleman-Adams and Ben Eliot (founder of concierge service Quintessentially) took a majority stake in the business, which aims to reach sales of £5m in five years, reports The Sunday Times.

image credit: Primrose's Kitchen

Food trends

Italian assessment

In an ode to the demise of Jamie’s Italian, The Guardian looks at three other Italian chains to see how they’re faring in the age of rocketing rents and soaring business rates. While the market appears buoyant for pizza makers – the low-cost item ensures PizzaExpress and Franca Manca are both doing a roaring trade appealing to different demographics – Carluccio’s is struggling, though it hopes to right the ship by “trying to recapture what was special about its food when Carluccio opened the first restaurant in London’s Covent Garden 20 years ago and pulled in celebrity diners.”

 

A cultured affair

Sales of yoghurt-making products are on the up, as consumers turn away from ‘big yoghurt’ in favour of DIY. According to Nielsen data, yoghurt sales fell by 6% in the year to February, while Greek yoghurt declined by 11%. “Our customers are getting more creative in the kitchen and investing in [products that allow them] to add a personal touch,” John Lewis buyer Stella Winklewska told The Guardian, adding that that sales of an £80 multicooker with a yoghurt setting are up 300%. At Lakeland, meanwhile, sales of its own-brand electric yoghurt maker have risen 49%, with a spokesperson citing plastic packaging as a reason people are turning away from store options.

 

Almond production cracks up water supply

The popularity of almonds has led to enormous growth in almond tree planting in Australia, which in turn is now causing concerns that there may not be enough water to nourish the thirsty plants. “Almond growers in the Murray-Darling basin have taken the unprecedented step of calling for a moratorium on the development of new plantations and a stocktake amid fears that there may not be enough water when summer arrives,” writes The Guardian.

image credit: Getty Images

Food reviews

Kudu, London SE15

As Food Spark (as well as most of the nation’s eminent restaurant critics) has already noted, Kudu is doing exciting things in its kitchen. A year on from its opening, Giles Coren heads down Peckham way and finds much to delight him in the South African-inflected cooking, including the peri peri duck hearts (“sweetness in the meat with fresh apricot and a scatter of crunchy Middle Eastern dukka”) and the parmesan churros with smoked crap mayo. “A small piece of stone bass on curried cauliflower began to feel more clearly African,” he writes, “as did some squash, slow-cooked on the braai, although the attendant goats curd Frenched it up again, while dandelions and kale whispered ‘Peckham’ quite loudly in its ear.”

 

Ashburn SW7, London SW7 4DN

“A dirty stain on its postcode,” this restaurant (located inside a hotel chain) fails in its execution of everything from Caesar salad to Malaysian speciality beef rendang, writes Jay Rayner, who uses the experience to emphasise that poor quality meals are still being sold at outrageous prices (£120 for two, in this instance). “I went to a Holiday Inn and had a shocking meal. I opened the barrel and shot all the fish. But the fact remains: there are too many barrels out there and many more fish in need of shooting.”

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