Week on a Plate

The week digested: M&S and Ocado make it official as number of casual dining restaurants drop

Catch up on the food news from February 25-March 1, including the UK’s threatened fish supplies and pasta's return to popularity.

1 March 2019
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M&S and Ocado make it official

It’s been a poorly kept secret, but Ocado and Marks & Spencer have officially announced their new partnership, which will begin in September 2020 – once Ocado’s deal to supply Waitrose products ends. M&S is paying Ocado £750m for a 50% share of the new website. While M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said the deal would drive long-term growth, the supermarket’s shares fell by 12% amid analyst concerns about the price of the partnership. Rowe defended the deal as fair and said it would bring M&S food to more shoppers, as its current range is too small for an entire weekly shop. Some shoppers have threatened to leave Ocado as they are upset about the loss of Waitrose products.

 

Number of restaurants drop for first time in almost a decade

For the first time in nine years, the number of casual dining restaurants in Britain has dropped. Data from CGA and Alix Partners shows chain restaurants declined to 5,780 in December – still an increase on five years ago, but down 0.1% on December 2017. It is predicted the numbers will continue to recede in 2019 due to the uncertainty of Brexit. However, pubs and bars seem to be faring better, with a slowing of closures.

 

Retailers prepared for Brexit looting

Supermarkets are preparing for a no-deal Brexit by accepting more wonky veg, testing varieties of tomatoes, avocados and oranges for longevity, and delisting some imported foods. Kantar Worldpanel reported that shoppers are already adopting “several recessionary behaviours,” like purchasing more snacks and less healthy food, while adults are taking lunchboxes to work. Its research found that 78% of consumers are concerned about high food and drink prices at supermarkets in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but only 22% said they would cut back on their grocery spend. The retailers are also preparing for the potential for looting and riots if Britain leaves the EU with no deal and are working with police to protect stock and stores. Meanwhile, the conglomerate that owns Kingsmill, Ryvita, Ovaltine and Twinings has reiterated warnings about the fallout of a no-deal Brexit. Associated British Foods’ finance chief, John Bason, told The Telegraph: “People need to understand the disruption that will come from it. There could be very severe consequences on the availability of food.”

 

Patisserie Valerie buyers in management shake-up

Patisserie Valerie’s new owners, Causeway, have dismissed chief executive Steve Francis and group commercial director Rhys Iley, who were installed less than three months ago and planned to invest in the business. Francis has launched legal action against the cake chain, saying he was removed as a cost-saving measure and for baseless allegations about his management of the company. He believes it’s highly likely that Causeway will close a “reasonable number” of stores and said a £5m investment programme which would have included refurbishments has been curtailed.

 

UK’s fish supplies under threat

The places experiencing the greatest loss of fish around the world include parts of the North Sea surrounding the UK, a new study has found. Warming oceans and overfishing have contributed to the decline in fish over the last 80 years.

image credit: Getty Images

CMA demands greater influence

The Competition and Markets Authority wants to broaden its powers, including being able to disqualify company directors and levy fines if there is a serious breach of consumer law. It also wants the ability to implement interim remedies before it has completed an investigation, which can take up to three years, as well as for public companies to appoint a board director to ensure compliance with competition and consumer law.

 

Pasta cements return to popularity

People, especially younger generations, are no longer carb conscious and are happily tucking into plates of pasta, according to The Guardian. Chef Tim Siadatan provides the qualitative analysis about why pasta has become so popular, while quantitative support comes from sales of Napolina’s 13 bestselling lines, which have risen 13% to £29.7m in the past year. Millennials appear to be driving the growth, with help from a combination of growing vegetarianism and Instagram.

 

Leading bakery manufacture eyes free-from

Finsbury Foods is looking to changing diets for growth, according to its chief executive, John Duffy, who said that veganism presented an “exciting” opportunity. The company also invested substantially in gluten-free last year.

 

The UK still has appetite for the sweeter things

Brits are renowned for their sweet teeth – we eat more chocolate per person than any other country, according to 2017 stats. One company turning these figures into funds is Hotel Chocolat, who revealed a 13% growth in sales in the latter half of 2018 compared to the year before, leading to £13.6m pre-tax profit. The confectioner has continued to open stores in the UK, while also exploring opportunities in Japan and New York.

 

Sourcing transparency reveals Mr Trotter’s telling porkies

Mr Trotter’s Great British Pork Crackling has admitted that its products are mostly made from Danish, German and Dutch pigs, despite its packaging claiming it is “Great British pork crackling.” But the company defended the description, saying its seasoning ingredients came from Britain and it was cooked here using a traditional recipe. The information was revealed as part of Happerley accreditation.

image credit: Mr. Trotter's

Automating drive-through orders

A fast-food chain in the US is trialling artificial intelligence for its drive-through business. At Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard, a robotic assistant takes orders from customers, before sending them along to a human server to collect their meals. The technology is currently only being tested at breakfast time in one location and uses expertise from Valyant AI, which says the automated process can improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.

 

Food waste gets app-y

Food waste apps are helping to save perfectly edible food from getting binned. The Telegraph takes a look at three different companies in this market – Karma, Too Good To Go and Olio – and how they help to salve consumers’ consciences as well as their bank accounts.

 

Plastic-recycling technique turns container into car

Soft drink bottles could be recycled into materials like car parts, with researchers saying the new technique cuts the energy needed to recycle PET by more than half. However, it is unlikely to tackle the vast quantities of PET that are produced globally.

 

Weight Watchers sheds customers

WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, does not appear to have benefited from its rebrand. The company has released a profit warning for 2019 in the wake of around 600,000 subscribers leaving the service in the second half of last year. The company has also suffered from the rise of alternative diets like keto, according to a UBS analyst.

 

Prince criticises plastic-producing manufacturers

Prince Harry has waded into the plastics debate, calling for more pressure to be applied to big companies that are not doing enough to reduce the amount of plastic waste. He noted that some international conglomerates give money to environmental projects, but still manufacture single-use plastic bottles.

 

Fungi-boosted products continue to mushroom

Shroom food gets another airing, with The Guardian taking a look at varieties like reishi, boletus, cordyceps and lion’s mane being used in coffee, chocolate and energy bars.

image credit: Getty Images

A healthy glow?

Scientists have made supermarket rocket glow green using a new genetic modification technique. The wacky experiment serves as a trial for a more precise and efficient way to edit plant DNA, which could be used to make it disease resistant or enhance functionality.

 

Fox’s may be finished with Leicester

Manufacture of Fox’s Glacier Mints could end in Leicester with plans to close its factory at the end of 2019. The move comes following the merger of the business with Tangerine Confectionery, makers of Dib Dab and Flumps. 

 

Premier Foods agrees to re-evaluate board

Premier Foods, which owns brands like Oxo, Mr Kipling, Bisto and Ambrosia, has caved to activist pressure to implement a strategic review and a shake-up of its board.

 

A bone to pick with broth

Is bone broth fab or fad? As it takes off again in the wellness sector, with many people adding adoptogens to their brew, The Evening Standard talks to Ossa Organic and a nutritionist about the health claims and health realities. Spoiler: most of the claims concerning collagen (said to promote anti-ageing) are unfounded.

 

A few of OFM’s favourite things

The Observer Food Monthly takes a look at its 50 favourite food things, including people, places and products. Bagels cosy up to Malaysian laksa and goat kebabs.

 

Taking trends to task

The Times dissects how eating habits are shaping up in 2019 in a tongue-in-cheek article that examines two-day vegan cleanses, rare red meat eaters, digital detox dining, matcha mania, food halls, the Sunday lunch, home delivery, fermented food and mindful baking.

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