Week on a Plate

The week digested: Britain’s top 50 gastropubs listed and Hello Fresh revenues rise

Catch up on the food news from January 28-February 1, including the diverging fresh food policies in retail and a new study that finds people who skip breakfast weigh less.

1 February 2019

Britain’s top 50 gastropubs revealed

The Morning Advertiser has released its list of the top 50 gastropubs, naming The Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent, the best in Britain. Stephen Harris’ restaurant was joined at the top of the list by Tom Kerridge’s The Coach in Marlow, Buckinghamshire; Freemasons at Wiswell, Clitheroe, Lancashire; The Star at Harome, North Yorkshire; and the Harwood Arms, Fulham, London.


Morrisons and Waitrose unveil new plastic initiatives

Morrisons will trial 20p paper grocery bags with handles, while upping the price of its plastic bags to 15p. Initially, the paper bags will be supplied to eight stores and are recyclable and reusable. Meanwhile, Waitrose is using £1m generated from its carrier bag charges to fund plastic-free projects. Last year, the UK’s seven largest supermarket chains sold just over 1bn single-use plastic bags.


Tesco and Morrisons take different directions on fresh food

Tesco has said that it will close fresh food counters in about 90 stores while also making cuts to its head office, with 9,000 jobs threatened – although it hopes to redeploy half of those affected. The supermarket said fresh food counters were being used less frequently as shoppers are time poor. Not long after this announcement, Morrisons said that it intends to hire 500 apprentice butchers, bakers and fishmongers to fill roles at its Market Street counters.


Hello Fresh sees 40% rise in revenue

Blazing the path for meal boxes – at least in terms of growth – Hello Fresh saw its income shoot up around 41% last year compared to 2017, according to the company’s unaudited estimates. Active customers rose by the same percentage to more than 2m, as the Berlin-based business delivered nearly 200m meal kits to reach revenues of around €1.275bn. Despite these impressive gains, it’s worth noting that the brand still made losses of at least €54m in 2018.


Veganuary sets new record

A record number of people signed up to Veganuary for January, with a quarter of a million taking part – more than the previous four years combined. Even more are said to have taken part without signing the official pledge. The Vegan Society, organisers of Veganuary, claim six in 10 people who participated plan to stay vegan.


Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day

A study published in the British Medical Journal has found that people who eat breakfast tend to consume more calories throughout the day than those who don’t. Researchers found that there appears to be no benefit to eating breakfast in terms of increasing metabolic rate, and in fact those that skip the early morning meal end up weighing less, contrary to NHS advice.


Business rates to receive further scrutiny

A new inquiry into business rates will be launched by MPs, following estimates that 100,000 more shops will close this year. This inquiry will analyse changes already implemented by the UK government for effectiveness.


Brexit will burden fruit and veg supply – and British health

Supermarkets have warned that they could temporally run out of supplies of fresh fruit and veg if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal – 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit are sourced from Europe at this time of year. The claim followed the release of a study that estimated the rising cost of fruit and veg in a no-deal Brexit scenario would result in thousands more deaths from heart attacks and strokes. Imperial College London and the University of Liverpool predicted 12,000 extra deaths between 2021 and 2030 in tandem with the cost of bananas increasing by 17%, citrus fruits by 14% and tomatoes by 15%. The inflated cost would see the British public eating between 3 and 11% less fruit or vegetables.


Patisserie Valerie soap opera continues

It now looks likely that Patisserie Valerie will be sold off in chunks, as potential buyers have been spooked by the limited financial information provided by administrators KPMG as well as reports that financial statements dating back six years may not be reliable. There have also been concerns that Luke Johnson and the chain’s executive chairman, Paul May, had a potential conflict of interest as they owned a building where one store of the ailing bakery chain was set up. A parliamentary committee has questioned Patisserie Valerie auditors Grant Thornton on how they missed the £40m alleged fraud, after being responsible for their books for the last 12 years, but Grant Thornton’s chief executive reportedly responded that its auditors “are not looking for fraud.”


CBD hits EFSA obstacle

The uptick in CBD-infused NPD may be brought to a grinding halt by news that the European Food Safety Agency has reclassified the cannabis-derived oil as a ‘novel food’ – a categorisation that entails greater scrutiny of safety and health claims before it can be sold. The British Food Standards Agency has already moved to have all CBD products removed from stores until the assessment process can be completed, which could take up to 18 months.


Rich rice rewards

A trial in Thailand to grow rice using a new method has resulted in increased yield and income, while reducing water usage, chemicals, seeds and greenhouse gas emissions. There are now plans to roll out the technique to 100,000 farmers within five years. The research is part of an initiative from the Sustainable Rice Platform – set up by businesses like Mars, Kellogg’s and agri-business Olam – to change growing practices.


Domino’s effect

More than half a million pizzas were sold in the UK by Domino’s on the Friday before Christmas – amounting to 12 pizzas a second over a 12-hour day. A weaker international performance took a slice of its profits, but the chain reported that group sales rose by 5.5% a year in the 13 weeks to the end of December. Overall, almost 90m Domino’s pizzas were sold last year in the UK, while the company estimates it will grow by 8% a year to 2022.


A bit of pea in your milk

Whole Foods is introducing what it says is the first pea milk to reach UK grocery shelves next month. The Evening Standard looks at how it stacks up on the health front.


McDonald’s reveals strong sellers

McDonald's reported strong sales in the UK and Ireland in the fourth quarter of last year, helped along by Saver Menu favourites like the cheeseburger as well as the popularity of coffee from its McCafé. Globally, comparable sales rose by 4.4%, but CEO Steve Easterbrook has warned that tough times are ahead.


Unilever reports sluggish sales growth
Unilever reported turnover of €49.6b for the year, excluding its spreads business, which was sold for a €4.3b profit. Its food and refreshment sales were up by 2% to €20.2bn. It is also stockpiling Magnum ice cream in case of a no-deal Brexit as the frozen favourite is produced in mainland Europe.


Rise in self-checkout leads to rise in theft

Supermarkets have reported a 7% rise in thefts as self-checkout machines become increasingly available in stores. Businesses are calling on police to do more to tackle the crime.


Asda loses equal pay battle

Asda has lost its court battle against an equal pay claim by shop workers seeking the same salary as warehouse staff. The decision could have serious and costly ramifications for the wider supermarket industry.


Would an international food treaty mean healthier diets?

An international treaty to support countries to draw up sustainable and healthy food policies is being proposed by a commission of experts brought together by the Lancet medical journal. The commission’s report accused big food companies of having too much influence on governments around the world, undermining public health policies. It said this influence must be curbed so governments can introduce sustainable food production, reduce salt and sugar levels, force manufacturers to put labels on processed foods, limit marketing to children and prevent obesity. It predicts these measures would make the inside of supermarkets look very different in 50 years’ time.


Investigation into farming subsidies

An investigation by the Guardian and Friends of the Earth has found dozens of MPs and peers own or manage farms that receive millions of pounds in EU subsidies. After Brexit, subsidies will come from the UK Government, with a bill currently going through parliament to allocate future payments based on creating a cleaner and healthier environment. Campaigners are concerned that politicians’ financial interests will cause undue influence on the bill.


Is there an alternative to intensive farming?

The Guardian looks at whether the world can ditch intensive farming and still feed itself. Ideas include introducing more urban farming, drones and innovations to help fill the gap between production and consumption.


Cutting the crusts

With an estimated 1.2bn edible bread crusts thrown away each year – the equivalent to 50m loaves – a new campaign aims to show consumers how to make snacks and meals from the leftovers, including through workshops with professional chefs. According to national research, 36% of households throw away crusts, 13% do not eat the ends of sliced loaves and 6% reject the ends of fresh loaves.


Selfridges opens up to insects

As previewed by Food Spark last year, Selfridges has launched pop-up bug bars. These will sell a range of products developed by French brand Jimini’s, which aims to expand its presence in the UK with pasta and granola made with buffalo worm flour and chocolate bars made with cricket flour.


Biryani wrap draws Indian ire

M&S has been criticised for cultural appropriation following the release of a vegan biryani wrap as part of its Plant Kitchen range. Maunika Gowardhan, the author of Indian Kitchen, told the Times: “A biryani is a labour-intensive method of cooking. You layer everything. There’s saffron, there’s cardamom, some regions have rosewater, garam masala. This is a complete misrepresentation of what the dish is. All you are doing is using the name, not the dish. Biryani is not a flavour, biryani is a dish." Others like Great British Menu winner Aktar Islam, however, described the outrage as a bit of a storm in a biryani pot, while Cinnamon Club chef Vivek Singh said people need to loosen up. Jikoni chef Ravinda Bhogal also wrote about the biryani wrap row for the Evening Standard.


Is #MeToo movement about to blow up Britain’s restaurant industry?

Asma Khan, founder of Darjeeling Express, documents the many abuses of female staff in restaurant kitchens, in the wake of the sexual harassment accusations levelled at chef Dan Doherty. Questioning whether the UK foodservice industry is about to have its #MeToo moment, she tell the Telegraph that inappropriate behaviour by male chefs towards female co-workers is not uncommon.


British food with an Indian twist

Zorawar Kalra, founder of Farzi Café, speaks to the Telegraph about his unusual Anglo-Indian concoctions, from venison irrachi (a curry from southern India usually made with beef) to the butter-roast beef marrow with vegetable crisps, inspired by the St John restaurant.


Chomping down on chayote

As Food Spark reported last year, chayote was identified by Pinterest as a 2019 food trend after a 76% surge in searches in 2018. The Guardian takes it for a test drive in the kitchen, noting that it works in stews and soups, can be baked with cheese or act as a star in a salad.


Tom Kerridge on pub pride

Chef Tom Kerridge admits that he used to be intimidated by Michelin-starred places, but is pleased his pubs have received the accolade to convince diners that they don't need to be posh to go to one. “The best pubs aren’t there breaking down boundaries in terms of culinary dishes or setting the world alight with new techniques or flavour combinations; the best pubs exist because they do food that people understand well," he told the Evening Standard.


Google celebrates Malay cuisine

This week, a Google doodle celebrated one of Malaysia's national dishes: nasi lemak, a rice cooked in coconut milk flavoured with pandan leaf and galangal leaf, topped with anchovies, crispy peanuts, hard-boiled egg, sliced cucumber and sambal  or a dash of tamarind juice. It’s a dish the founder of London’s Sambal Shiok told Food Spark she hoped to bring onto the menu at her laksa restaurant last year.

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