Week on a Plate

The week digested: Patisserie Valerie finds buyers and industry pushes back against government legislation

Catch up on the food news from February 11-15, including the Asda-Sainsbury’s merger delay and the resignation of the Restaurant Group’s CEO.

15 February 2019

Patisserie Valerie estate finds buyers

Part of Patisserie Valerie’s estate has been rescued from administration by its management team and Irish private equity fund Causeway Capital, with chief executive Steve Francis declaring the chain will win back its reputation and put history behind it. The buyers aim to keep 96 stores across the UK open, though this will be dependent on negotiations with landlords. The Philpotts brand, which was owned by Patisserie Valerie, will be bought up by food and distribution company AF Blakemore and Son, while its Baker & Spice bread cafes have been acquired by the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs.


Asda-Sainsbury’s merger decision delayed

The final report from the Competition and Markets Authority into the proposed Asda and Sainsbury’s merger has been delayed by eight weeks and is now expected on April 30. If the tie-up is approved, it would create a supermarket group with 330,000 staff and £51bn’s worth of revenues. Any verdict is likely to list as a condition of the merger that a number of locations be sold off to rivals – a prospect Iceland has told the Financial Times it is eyeing eagerly as part of its strategy to snap up sites within retail parks.


Industry pushes back against government legislation

The UK government should hold off on food and drink industry reforms  until after Brexit. That’s the view of more than 30 organisations, including the Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers’ Union, who signed a letter to Michael Gove saying they are too busy preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit to take part in talks regarding unhealthy foods and plastic packaging. “If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond,” noted the letter.


Ultra-processed foods can be fatal

A French study of 44,000 people has found eating a lot of ultra-processed foods is linked to a risk of earlier death. “Such foods are attractive because they tend to be cheaper, are highly palatable due to high sugar, salt and saturated fat content, are widely available, highly marketed, ready to eat, and their use-by dates are lengthy, so they last longer,” Professor Nita Forouhi, of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, told the Guardian. She added more needs to be done to address inequalities as a disproportionate amount of people with lower incomes or education levels eat these type of foods. The Telegraphmeanwhile, responded to the study by elucidating the categorisation of processed and unprocessed according to the Nova food classification system.


Restaurant Group CEO resignation sends shares falling

The Restaurant Group’s CEO has resigned citing “personal circumstances.” The sudden announcement from Andy McCue, who shepherded the company through its purchase of Wagamama, sent the share price tumbling.


Prime minister divides nation with mouldy jam policy

Mouldy jam is arguably the most trivial food story to hit headlines this week, after Theresa May said there was nothing wrong with eating the spread if you scraped off the visible mould. While chefs and ministers drew battle lines, the Food Standards Agency reminded everyone that it does not advise people to eat jam if there is evidence of mould as unseen toxins might remain. In response to the debate, the Telegraph drew up a list of five foods that can be eaten when mouldy, including some cheeses, cured meats, and fruit and veg.


Adult-onset food allergies on the rise

There has been a reported rise in first-time food allergies in adults – people who munch on something they have always eaten, only to have their lips swell and breathing affected. The Times talks to scientists about what might be causing this increase, from infections to a greater propensity in the public to eat exotic foods.


Scone scandalises sugar campaigners

A Food Standards Agency report has found that the average scone contains 408 calories, though others delivered up to 756 calories and 39.2g of sugar. Add jam and cream to the largest scone tested and it amounts to 900 calories. The Guardian takes a tongue-in-cheek look at how to save the scone. The Telegraph, meanwhile, says that while it is unthinkable to ban the scone, modern versions take excessive liberties with the amount of sugar included.

image credit: Getty Images

NHS should follow Tesco example

Thanks to its loyalty cards, Tesco knows more about its customers than the NHS does about its patients, the health secretary Matt Hancock has said. Hancock was speaking about why the NHS needs to invest in the right technology to track patients and save lives, following the release of a report predicting that in the next 10 years AI will used to interpret scans, robots will perform surgery and algorithms will predict illness.


Just Eat urged to merge

Just Eat should merge with a delivery peer, according to a hedge fund that owns 1.7% of the company. In an open letter, Cat Rock Capital Management criticised the delivery giant for its poor recruitment choices, saying it had picked people to lead the company that had no experience in the takeaway arena.


Greenpeace advocates for fewer subsidies for livestock farming

Greenpeace has called for taxpayers’ money to be redirected away from grain-fed, industrial farming after revealing nearly a fifth of the EU’s total budget – more than £24bn – is spent on livestock farming. The campaigners have called for animals to be reared on a grass-based system to free up land to grow crops for human consumption and for EU subsidies to be used on more fruit and vegetable production.


A berry big problem

Spanish berry farmers are concerned a hard Brexit could trigger a crisis by driving prices down and forcing them to rethink their planting – the UK is the third biggest export market for strawberries. Meanwhile, Welsh farmers are worried their lamb and beef export market could suffer if they are forced to market their meat under the Union Jack, rather than with Welsh branding. They believe in some parts of the world UK red meat is viewed negatively and are keen to differentiate themselves.


Olive prices set to spike

Freak weather and a disease has devastated Italian olive harvests, which have seen olive oil prices rise by 31% last month. The price hike is expected to be passed on to British consumers.


Meal kits vs supermarket shopping

Meal kits that are delivered to homes cut food waste by two-thirds, US research has found. However, buying the same ingredients at the supermarket saves energy overall because the packaging of meal kits is less environmentally friendly and often contains single-use plastic.


My million-pound bao business

Taiwanese outfit Tiger Bites won the grab-and-go competition for My Million Pound Menu with its burger-sized bao filled with fried chicken or crispy seitan tofu and a choice of topping. One notable condiment, dubbed the Peanut Butter and Jelly, consists of satay sauce, sweet chilli jam and crushed nuts, while another, the Kung Fu Panda, includes burger sauce, sriracha, coriander, chilli and black sesame.


Dominique Crenn plans to open dairy-free patisserie

Dominique Crenn is the first female chef in the US to be awarded three Michelin stars for her San Francisco restaurant Bar Crenn, with many lauding the achievement for smashing the glass ceiling. She speaks to the Guardian about her experience working in the male-dominated industry and plans to open a patisserie and boulangerie that will be plastic-free and dairy-free.

image credit: Instagram @barcrenn

One-handed munchies

A Japanese snack maker has created a range of crisps with a specially designed bag that allows people to eat them with one hand. It leaves the other hand free to scroll on their mobile phone or play computer games. The range is aptly called One Hand and includes a seaweed-flavoured product.


Kefir round-up

As M&S releases a new kefir drink with Bio-tiful, the Telegraph rounds up five more jumping on the fermented beverage trend, including Daylesford Organic, Purearth, the Collective and Arla.


Plant-based burgers are Moving Mountains

The Times takes a look at the new generation meeting the growing market for plant-based ‘meat’ products, including speaking to Moving Mountains founder Simeon van der Molen.


Scottish Wefarm aims to set up African marketplace

Scottish start up Wefarm brings a million small-scale farmers from Kenya and Uganda together via text message to solve problems, share ideas, spread innovation and crowdsource answers to things like how to battle diseases or plant a new crop. The business wants to set up a marketplace for users to trade with each other and to commercialise the information shared.


Documentary about meat-reducing farmer wins Bafta

A short documentary on Jay Wilde, a farmer who donated his cows to an animal sanctuary rather than sending them to slaughter, has won a Bafta. Wilde hopes the film will encourage people to look at their lifestyle and reduce their impact on the planet. A small pool of other farmers have also followed his lead.


Tesco announces housing scheme

Tesco will overhaul one of its sites located in northeastern London to include a new store, 1,400 new homes, a primary school, workspace for businesses, cafes and landscaped public areas. It’s not the only grocer with such grand designs either: Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Lidl all have plans to develop properties in the capital. 


A brief history of frozen food

An extra £581m worth of frozen food was sold over the last two years. As the fastest-growing food category, the Times takes a look at the history of frozen food. 

Morrisons workers demand equal pay

When Asda lost its appeal over equal pay claims a few weeks ago, observers warned it would open to door to similar claims at other supermarkets. Now, Morrisons is under fire from store staff, who allege that the predominantly female floor staff should be paid the same as the staff in distribution centres, who are largely male. A parallel claim against the UK’s four biggest grocers is ongoing.


Ambrosia sale called off

Disappointing discussions with potential buyers of custard maker Ambrosia have led Premier Foods to call off the sale. The company had hoped to reduce some of its £510m debt by offloading the subsidiary.


Stunned meat debate gets exported

The British Veterinary Association has called on the UK Government to ban the export of meat where animals aren't stunned before slaughter. More than 3m lambs and sheep were slaughtered without being stunned last year and just over 760,000 of them were exported, according to the Food Standards Agency.


Biggest oil producer says single-use plastic may be better for environment

BP, one of the world's biggest producers of oil and gas, has claimed that alternatives to single-use plastic like glass could increase carbon emissions that cause climate change as they require more energy to produce and transport. Around 15% of oil is used to make plastics.


Table for one

New York is seeing an increasing trend for solo diners and restaurants are adapting menus and seating to cater for them. Opentable says solo reservations increased by 80% between 2014 and 2018.


Gordon Ramsay installs space capsule in restaurant

Gordon Ramsey has installed an Apollo-style space capsule in his Bread Street Kitchen to offer a different style of private dining for up to eight guests. The menu features snow crab California rolls, tuna tartare, lollipop tamarind chicken wings and truffle fries. He has also announced his new restaurant, Lucky Cat.

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