Week on a Plate

The week digested: McDonald’s loses Big Mac trademark while a new cauliflower steak debacle emerges

Catch up on the food news from January 14-18, including the tasty profits of both meal replacement company Huel and milk alternative Oatly.

18 January 2019
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BBC challenges Just Eat on allergens

An investigation by BBC Panorama has found some restaurants on Just Eat are at risk of selling food that could cause allergic reactions due to discrepancies between the information given to customers and what is actually in dishes. It also revealed that 100 restaurants have hygiene ratings of zero from the Food Standards Agency, despite some being highly promoted on the app. Just Eat has now launched its own investigation into the issues.


Spoons outweigh grams

The British Nutrition Foundation has launched a portion guide that uses spoon and hand measurements as a reference, rather than requiring consumers to weigh their food. It used data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey to develop the guide, which was funded by companies including Waitrose, Tesco and M&S.


Sales of milk alternatives are oat of control

The Telegraph speaks to the head honcho at Oatly amid spiking sales of non-dairy ‘milks.’ Driven by consumers who believe nut drinks are a more ethical and sustainable alternative. Oatly sales in the UK shot up 89% last year to £18m, while global sales totalled £87m.


Lidl taunts competitors

Lidl looks to be goading its rivals by bragging it lured affluent shoppers away from its competitors, claiming shoppers had switched £58m of spend in the festive period from the big four supermarkets. Its sale increased by 8% in the six weeks to December 30, with deluxe products like its luxury mince pies and hand-cooked crisps proving popular, according to the discounter. Waitrose boss Rob Collins hit back by saying the supermarket hadn’t seen any evidence of shoppers downtrading, while Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe added consumers still headed to them for something special.


Consumers stock up on staples

People are so concerned about the prospect of bare shelves after Brexit that they are stockpiling staples like pasta, rice, sauces, tinned vegetables and powdered milk. Groups have popped up on Facebook to help people prepare in the event the food chains buckle under Brexit.

image credit: Getty Images


Stop all that muck

From 2025, the farming practice of spraying fields with liquid manure – known as muck-spreading – will be banned as part of Government’s plans to reduce air pollution. Money to help change practices and even equipment has been promised to farmers, but the National Farmers’ Union warned the measures could threaten the UK beef and dairy sector’s competitiveness on the world stage.


Black plastic

After Waitrose announced the removal of more than 1,300 tonnes of black plastic per year from its own-brand products, the Evening Standard took a look at what the other supermarkets are doing to replace or remove it. The black pigment prevents recycling plants sorting machines from recognising the plastic.


Huel-ing meal replacement

Meal replacement company Huel has sold 30m products since launching in 2015 and has projected profits of £40m in 2019, making it one of Britain’s fastest growing businesses. Huel founder Julian Hearn says its customer are generally commuters, while its food competitors are cereals and sandwiches. In October, the company raised £20m to aid the global expansion of the functional food product, which is already available in 80 countries. The product is made with oats, rice, pea protein, sunflower and vitamin and mineral supplements.


Nutritional boosts

The Times takes a look at the trend of fortifying food with nutritional good stuff – from omega-3 to fibre to vitamin B12 – and whether it helps the health of the nation. While some consumers might be uneasy about this tweaking of food, there is an opportunity for the food industry to do more, according to the article. Customers would prefer a high-fibre pasta or pizza, Claire Hughes, Sainsbury’s head of quality and innovation, said, rather than taking a supplement. Meanwhile, Tesco has reformulated over 50 different bakery lines, giving them a fibre boost – and is looking to do the same with yoghurt.

image credit: Quorn


Quorn-y seafood

Vegan seafood substitutes continue to roll in, with Quorn the latest to join the trend. Battered and breaded fishless fillets, which replicate the texture and flakiness of real fish and include seaweed extract to give it a realistic flavour, are set to launch in March. It took five years to develop the new products and they aim to reduce the reliance on protein from the ocean. 


M&S closures

The closures of another 17 Marks & Spencer branches that sell clothing, homewares and food under one roof have been announced. Locations hit include Bedford, Hull, Huddersfield and Rotherham. The cull of high street stores began in 2017 but local UK ministers and councillors are reaching out to see if the latest round of cuts can be stopped.


Return of the greengrocer

In more positive news for M&S, the supermarket has announced it will be trialling plastic-free aisles at one of its stores, with an eye to rolling them out across the country if they are successful. The aisles will offer more than 90 lines of loose fruit and vegetables, with greengrocers on hand to help customers pick and weigh their produce.


A bird-brained way to halve food waste

Halving food waste and meat consumption could see farmers adopt more wildlife-friendly farming, including retaining 5% of land for nature reserves to bolster British bird species, new research has found. But it was warned that sparing land for wildlife can't come at a cost of less food production locally, as it could lead to more imported food – and many international farming practices are destroying the environment.


Nestle invests in plastic-free packaging

Nestle's pledge to phase out plastics that are not recyclable will see it trial a number of materials that are paper-based, biodegradable or compostable. Smarties plastic tube tops are the latest in the line of fire, with the food giant in the process of removing them from Giant options, multipacks, mini bags and some seasonal items. It is also developing a biodegradable plastic bottle for countries where recycling infrastructure doesn't exist, which could be launched in 18 months to three years. 


Cake or confectionery?

In a tax victory, brownies made with dates, chicory fibre and rice malt from a company called Pulsin have been classified as cakes rather than confectionery, meaning they are exempt from VAT. The ingredients, the manufacturing method, the taste and the texture were consistent with being a cake, according to the judge who ruled on the case, and also tried the brownies alongside Mr Kipling’s French fancies, Victoria sponge cake and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes.


Got your goat

Goat meat will be sold in supermarkets for the first time this year, according to the Times. Recipes for goat sausages, meatballs and ready meals are also being trialled, while restaurants like St John’s, Ottolenghi and Mark Hix already have the ethical meat on the menu. Sales of goat’s cheese and milk have also risen in the last five years.


Cauliflower steaks strike again

Failing to learn from the lessons of the past, the Young's pub chain has come under fire for offering two roasted cauliflower ‘steaks’ for the price of £28 – the same price at which it sells two Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks. People took to social media to chastise the brand while also deploring the exploitation of vegans. Young’s defended itself on Twitter by saying the cauliflower was “premium quality.” 


The vegan tax

In response to the cauliflower steak fiasco, the Telegraph features an article on other ways vegans are penalised by pricing, from milk alternatives to ready meals.


Big Mac loses EU trademark

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has revoked the McDonald's trademark of Big Mac across the EU, saying the fast-food giant had shown “insufficient” evidence of “genuine use” of the term as a restaurant or burger. While the McDonald’s utilisation of Big Mac can still have protection at the national level, commentators have called the decision a victory for Supermac’s, an Irish fast-food chain that has been battling McDonald’s in the courts over an EU-wide trademark for its brand’s name.


Greene King’s new CEO

Greene King has appointed Nick Mackenzie, an executive of Merlin Entertainments, to the position of chief executive, following the announcement in November of Rooney Anand's resignation.


Stevia holds up Swiss chocolate maker

Swiss chocolate makers Lindt & Spruengli experienced slowing sales in the US and European markets last year, though Japanese, South African, Brazilian and Chinese markets achieved double-digit growth. The company particularly noted that its line made with stevia instead of sugar had been a strong performer.


Digging into the Patisserie Valerie accounts

Forensic accountants have uncovered thousands of false entries in Patisserie Valerie’s company ledgers, which show manipulation of the balance sheet and profit and loss accounts. The cafe chain said it was clear that cash flow and profitability had been overstated, with KMPG appointed to review its options. CVAs are on the table. This week has also seen Patisserie Valerie’s second director resign this week, with Lee Ginsberg, deputy chairman and former head of its audit committee, leaving the chain immediately. Meanwhile, the Times has learned that the Financial Reporting Council approved the quality of an audit of Patisserie Valerie’s accounts six months before significant and fraudulent accounting irregularities nearly closed the company. The FRC’s monitoring process has been criticised.


Plastic overcomes cross-party politics

The Government should bring forward the 2042 date set down to phase out avoidable plastic waste and create a new global agreement to protect the seas, a report from a cross-party group of MPs has said. It also voiced concerns that there is a lack of long-term data on the health implications of plastic particles entering the food chain and said greater action was needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


England home to vegan hotspots

A new study claims that Bristol is the world city most interested in veganism, according to searches on Google. But London is said to be most vegan-friendly city, with over 100 vegan restaurants.


From waste to savoury ice cream

A small movement of chefs are turning to food waste to create savoury ice cream, reports the Guardian. Among them is Alchemilla in Nottingham – which uses stale sourdough, butter molasses and a little coffee – and the Oriental Club in London, which takes its peshwari naan and soaks it in milk.


Putting the planet on a new diet

An international team has created a planetary health diet that would help tackle environmental problems. It would mean a dramatic reduction in eating red meat, with the scientists saying it should be seen as a treat. Ideally, people should eat one beef burger a week, with protein coming instead from pulses and nuts. Vegetables and fruit should make up half of each plate of food and wholegrain cereals a third. The diet would also allow for a glass of milk a day, some cheese or butter and an egg or two. It closely resembles the Mediterranean diet, but these changes could only be achieved by taxing red meat, preventing more farming and protecting the ocean, according to the report.


Indo-Nepalese menu

An Indo-Nepalese food concept called KityCow failed to secure funding on My Million Pound Menu, but restaurateur Jamie Barber has now provided necessary investment to see it run a three-month residency at Barber’s Mayfair bar and brasserie Hush. Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar will also provide mentorship to the chefs.


Single-dish menus will continue into 2019

The Times predicts that the trend for single-dish restaurants will continue in 2019 due to the power of social media. The paper looks at the most popular orders at the best single-dish restaurants in Britain, from steak and chips operator Flat Iron and grilled cheese sandwiches at Meltmongers, to pasta at Bancone, hot dogs at Bubbledogs, chicken at Chick’n’Sours and noodles at Tonkotsu.


image credit: Bubbledogs

Mushroom mania

It’s a bit behind the trends times, but The Guardian  notes that mushrooms are having a moment, particularly in the wellness scene. It takes a look at how people are using the vegetable and whether some of the health claims can actually be backed up. Sales of mushrooms are projected to rise to $7.4bn in the next three years in the US.


Oversupply of game birds

Game shooting has come under the spotlight amid concerns that the sport is killing far more birds than can be eaten. The Times reports that while there is an increasing demand for game, the price for pheasants and partridges has fallen more than 50% in the past six years, creating difficulties in getting rid of the meat.


Premier Foods’ profits dip

Logistics changes are responsible for Premier Foods’ sliding profits, according to the company. The maker of Mr. Kipling saw a 2.2% drop in revenues for the three months to Dec 29, as it consolidated its warehousing and distribution. However, the manufacturer also a 2.7% rise in UK grocery sales.


Takeaways to become homes

With more than 4,000 takeaways opening on the high street since 2014, the UK government has announced new rules to allow fast-food outlets to convert into homes without planning permission. Jake Berry, the high streets minister, said it would not only ease the housing crisis, but help town centres with “noisy and smelly” takeaway outlets, reported The Times.


Chicken chain

A Taiwanese fried chicken fast-food chain called Monga is opening its first site in London on January 27, adding to its nearly 40 sites across Taiwan and two in North America. Its chicken cutlets are marinated in honey before being coated in a batter.


Funding challenger brands

Young Foodies and financial advisory firm Spayne Lindsay have launched a funding platform as an alternative to crowdfunding to aid challenger food brands during their critical growth phase. A survey found that 37% of early-stage entrepreneurs were least confident with investment and funding, while 80% said fundraising was a real cause of anxiety.          


Cafe culture

Two high-end cafes offering a boutique coffee experience have opened in London. Both Le Café Alain Ducasse and Japanese import Omotesando Koffee boast rare beans, flashy gadgets and no more than 12 seats.

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