Week on a Plate

The week digested: PizzaExpress heading for debt restructuring and Unilever’s ambitious plastic plan

Catch up on the food news from October 7-11, including the decision to add plant-based burgers to every Wetherspoon menu and Tesco’s investment in cashier-less shopping.

11 October 2019

PizzaExpress heading for debt restructuring

PizzaExpress has hired financial advisers and could be set for debt restructuring, including refinancing two tranches of borrowing worth a combined £665m that is due for repayment in the next two to three years. Overall there is £1.12bn owed to various lenders, a sum equal to 77m of its Sloppy Giuseppe beef and pepper pizzas. However, a source at the pizza chain said there was no chance of collapse, restaurant closures, CVAs or job losses, and its interest repayments were being paid by the group’s existing cashflow.


High street pizza rated

On the back of PizzaExpress debt problems, The Times sends a father and daughter out on to the high street for a pizza pilgrimage, where they dine at Franco Manca, PizzaExpress, Zizzi, Pizza Hut, Bella Italia and Prezzo. Dad picks PizzaExpress as the best pizza, while his daughter’s favourite is Franco Manca.


Unilever to cut plastic use, but is it enough?

Unilever has pledged to halve the use of new plastics by 2025 with a focus on introducing reusable packs and refills, as well as recycled plastics, alternative wrappings or even putting goods ‘naked’ on the shelf. It will reduce its use of plastic packaging by 100,000 tonnes annually to 600,000 tonnes in six years. The company admitted a fundamental rethink about the way it approaches packaging and product development will be required. It has already rolled out innovations like wrapper-less multipacks for its Solero ice cream lollies and plans to form partnerships with the waste-handling industry. But campaign group A Plastic Planet called on the company to do more and reduce overall plastic by 50%, rather than just virgin plastic. Unilever’s Alan Jope also wrote an opinion piece about why the company is tackling the plastics problem for The Times.


Wetherspoon pubs add plant-based burgers permanently

Wetherspoon is putting plant-based burgers on the menu permanently following a successful six-month trial. The Meatless Farm products will be available in all of its 880 outlets as Wetherspoon’s head of catering, Jameson Robinson, revealed the pub company had seen a growing demand for vegetarian and vegan meals across all age groups. The Meatless Farm is also currently trialling a burger with pub group Greene King.


Tesco invests in cashier-less shopping

Tesco has invested in an Israeli tech firm that could help it launch Britain's first cashier-less store. Trigo Vision, which Food Spark has previously featured, allows consumers to pick items from the shelves and walk out without passing through a till or automated checkout by using cameras that analyse customer movements and add items to a virtual basket connected to a credit or debit card. Tesco will run a trial of the system on staff in the Express shop at its Welwyn Garden City headquarters in Hertfordshire. The tech could rival Amazon Go, which operates 17 shops in the US and is reportedly preparing to open sites in the UK.


Virtual cashiers

Realistic human-like faces in the form of virtual characters help to prevent shoplifting at self-scan checkouts, new research has found.


Pret earnings fall

Pret has blamed Brexit uncertainty, business rates and costs from last year's sale for its latest financial performance. UK revenues rose by 11% to £710m but underlying earnings for the sandwich chain’s 389 British stores fell by 7% to £91.4m.


Butter maker targets vegan cheese

Upfield, which owns brands such as Flora, Stork and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, is looking to snap up plant-based cheesemaker Violife for £500m.

Allergen-related recalls rise by 20%

Food product recalls due to undeclared allergens on labels have seen a 20% increase compared to last year and are at an overall five-year high, research has found. The rise has been attributed to the focus on high-profile allergen deaths that have hit the media this year. Out of 122 products removed from sale this year, 22% contained undeclared milk and 16% were taken off shelves because they contained nuts. Examples include Waitrose recalling its sour cream and chive mix because it contained wheat; 57 popcorn products produced by Thomas Tucker sold at Greggs, Mackie’s and Morrisons being taken of shelves because they included milk; and Mondelez UK pulled its hazelnut-flavoured range of Belvita Soft Bakes due to milk being undeclared on the label. Last year, 87 products were recalled.


Supermarkets accused of propping up unethical supply chain

An Oxfam report has accused supermarkets, including Lidl, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons, of driving poverty and fuelling gender discrimination via poor pay and punitive working conditions on farms and plantations that supply fresh fruit or tea. The charity conducted research with workers from India and Brazil, along with surveys in five other countries. It found half of those surveyed had to resort to government ration cards as they did not earn enough, while female workers were regularly clocking up 13 hours of hard labour a day.


Tax hike mulled for junk food

The government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has called for tougher action against junk food to prevent childhood obesity, including a ban on eating and drinking on public transport as well as promoting and advertising junk food. She also recommended VAT price hikes for junk food and the introduction of plain packaging.


Obesity costing each taxpayer extra £409

Official figures have shown that 4.4% (26,000) of year six children aged 10 to 11 are severely obese in the UK, hitting an all-time high for the country. Overweight and obesity has continued to rise among the youngest children too, with those aged four to five, increasing from 22.4% in the previous year to 22.6% and affecting more than 135,000 children. This has economic implications, with the average tax bill £409 a year higher due to the cost to the NHS, while the obesity problems also results in the loss of 944,000 full-time workers.


Time Out seeks money to roll out more markets

Media company Time Out has turned to shareholders to raise £17.1m, which will be used to open more of its food and drinks markets, including in London.


What impact does cheese have on health?

For 92% of Brits, cheese is eaten at least once a week. The Times takes a look at current health research around the dairy product, including guidelines surrounding its consumption as questions are raised about whether its links with cardiovascular disease have been overplayed. Some studies have even suggested cheese could play a preventative role in warding off diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

image credit: Getty Images

M&S to modernise product range

Stuart Machin, the Marks & Spencer food boss, has presented investors with his plans to turn around its declining food division. The roadmap includes changing customers’ perceptions on price, increasing volumes and modernising its supply chain and product ranges, reports The Times. Four new appointments with a range of industry experience have been brought in to help with the multi-year plan. 


Delivery companies to offer hygiene transparency

Following a Times investigation that showed one in 20 UK restaurants was failing health inspections, Deliveroo and Uber Eats have announced they will publish the hygiene ratings of restaurants featured on their platforms. Uber Eats customers will be able to access the information by the end of the month. Just Eat has provided the information since July, does not allow zero-rated restaurants to trade on its site and is introducing a £1m improvement programme for restaurants with a food hygiene rating of below three.


Bread ahead

The Guardian meets the bread heads revolutionising baking and suggests the days of the mass-produced white supermarket loaf may be numbered.


Mood food

Symptoms of depression were improved in young people who were encouraged to ditch the junk food and eat healthily, including more fruit, veg, fish and olive oil, a new study has confirmed.


2 Sisters divests itself of Valeo

Valeo Foods, Britain's biggest maker of Christmas puddings, has been sold for £67m by 2 Sisters’ Ranjit Singh Boparan. Matthew Walker, which supplies desserts to retailers from Lidl to Harrods, has snapped up the company.


Cash reserves allow chain to expand

Burger & Lobster aims to open 10 new sites, despite falling sales and profits.

Tom Brown’s school days

The Evening Standard sits down with Cornerstone chef Tom Brown to talk about missing out on a Michelin star, his journey through kitchens and opening his restaurant.


Greene King purchase approved

Greene King’s takeover by Hong Kong’s richest man has been supported by 99% of shareholders.


Premium fish and chips criticised

Tom Kerridge has defended the £32.50 fish and chips at his restaurant in the Corinthia Hotel, insisting the turbot is caught that day and the batter made with Kingsdown sparkling water, while the chips are individually hand cut from incredibly expensive potatoes. He added that fish and chips are one of the greatest dishes in the world.


Claims pub group has ‘corrupted’ tax policy

The boss of Britain’s largest pub company, the Ei Group, has denied the company had undue influence over the way the industry is taxed via business rates, labelling the claims as “false suggestions.” For pubs, the tax is linked to a tenant’s turnover, rather than the property’s rateable value.


Michelin releases 2020 guide

The 2020 Michelin guide has been revealed with 67 London restaurants retaining or awarded stars.


David Moore on star power

The Times talks with David Moore, the owner of Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia, about the relevance of Michelin stars and how achieving a second star could transform the restaurant.


Edible liquid capsules

Scottish whisky maker Glenlivet has created edible cocktail capsules that are contained within casing made of seaweed. 

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