Week on a Plate

The week digested: Sainsbury’s-Asda merger terminated and Yo! Sushi rebrands

Catch up on the food news from April 22-26, including emerging studies on preservatives and the best of British salami.

26 April 2019
chainsmeat alternativerestaurantsseafoodsupermarketstechnology

Sainsbury’s Asda tie-up sunk for good

The mega merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda has been blocked by the competition watchdog, which declared the deal would increase prices both in-store and online, as well as reducing the choice and quality of products. The Competition and Markets Authority’s report said that if the deal went ahead, it would result in a poorer shopping experience for all UK shoppers both nationally and locally. As a result, both supermarkets agreed to terminate the transaction, though Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe hit out at the decision, accusing the CMA of taking £1bn out of customers’ pockets.


Sainsbury’s could be hit with £50m bill

In more emerging news on the failed merger, lawyer and banker fees could add up to a £50m bill for Sainsbury's for the work done on the proposed merger with Asda, adding to fiscal woes engendered by the recent share price slide. Next week, Sainsbury's will publish its annual results and all ears will be tuned in to hear boss Mike Coupe’s Plan B.


Yo! Sushi strips off its belt

The conveyor belt is set to disappear from some Yo! Sushi restaurants as the chain attempts to highlight the diversity of its offering, which also includes hot Japanese food like curry. The move is also expected to reduce food waste. The chain’s chief executive, Richard Hodgson, announced that Yo! will also be dropping sushi from its name to further broaden its appeal.


Is nitrite-free pork possible?

The Times takes a look at the controversy surrounding adding nitrates and nitrites to processed meat and examines whether there is a preservative-free future for the ham or bacon sandwich. The paper points out that in addition to helping prevent botulism, these chemicals also lend pork products their expected texture and colour, but companies like Finnebrogue claim that they have created nitrite-free bacon and ham that differ little from traditional versions.


Bakery preservatives feel the heat

Propionate, a preservative used in the manufacture of bread and cakes, could be linked to obesity and diabetes, according to a new study. Researchers at Harvard University performed tests on both mice and humans that seemed to suggest the additive triggers insulin resistance and weight gain. However, an emeritus professor of Oxford University suggested that further investigation into propionate’s effect on people was needed.


Delivery leaders trial takeaway

UberEats has introduced the option for customers to pick up their takeaway order and avoid a delivery fee, with Deliveroo set to follow in its footsteps later this year.


Tesco boss calls for 2% digital tax

Tesco boss Dave Lewis has launched another attack on digital retailers, calling for a 2% tax on products sold online. He believes the tax would raise £1.5bn and allow for business rate cuts to make the playing field fairer. This week it was also revealed that there are less jobs in the retail sector due to increasing online competition, according to the British Retail Consortium.


Loungers ready to float

Loungers has raised £80m through plans to list on the junior stock market AIM, where it will be valued at £185m. Shares will start trading on Monday for 200p apiece.

image credit: Loungers

Reduced food waste outweighs meal kit packaging concerns

Despite the packaging, meal kits are more environmentally friendly than a supermarket shop because they produce less food waste, research from the University of Michigan has found. 


Meat alternatives make market moves

Tyson Foods has sold its 6.5% stake in alternative protein maker Beyond Meat. The move comes ahead of Beyond’s IPO, scheduled for next month, amid reports that Tyson is readying to launch its own meat-free protein product later this year.


Should local councils be given greater ability to combat junk ads?

More power should be given to local authorities to curb junk food advertising, while the Advertising Standards Authority's oversight should include nurseries, children’s centres, parks, family attractions and leisure centres, argues a report from health campaigners.


Salmon supplies plunge

Scottish salmon catches in 2018 were at their lowest level since records began 67 years ago, with warnings that the species is facing a crisis and conservation measures need to be implemented. Salmon contributes £720m to the UK economy and is the biggest British food export, yet the recent decline in fish stocks remains unexplained.


Car collision tech applied to trolleys

Ford has turned its car expertise towards the design of a self-braking supermarket trolley that uses sensors to scan for potential collisions. Meanwhile, a US start-up called Caper has created an AI-powered trolley that uses sensors to identify and add items to a virtual basket. 


US robotic innovation makes UK look luddite

Speaking of shop-floor gadgetry, British supermarkets have fallen behind their US counterparts in tech advances, claims The Times, as the newspaper highlights Amazon’s checkout-free stores and Walmart’s growing army of robotic assistants.


British salami ranked

Food Spark has written several times about the surging interest in British charcuterie, and now The Telegraph has taste tested some of the home-grown producers. Topping the rankings with a stonking 10 out of 10 is Great Glen Charcuterie’s Scottish salami with wild venison and green peppercorns (sold by Cannon & Cannon), followed by Trealy Farm’s Welsh lamb and lemon merguez salami (nine out of 10) and Cornish Charcuterie’s seaweed and cider salami (eight out of 10).

Green Pepper Venison Salami
image credit: Great Glen Charcuterie

Smell with your tongue

Scientists have discovered that humans can use their tongue to smell as well as taste. The researchers at the Monell Chemical Sense Centre found odour receptors in taste cells on the tongue, which may explain why strong flavours like menthol and chilli make the nose tingle. This discovery could also have intriguing applications, including using sprays on food to manipulate the taste of dishes.


CDG reveals new CEO

Casual Dining Group has announced its chief operating officer, James Spragg, will take over the chief executive position at the end of the month, following the departure of Steve Richards.


NGO attacks government over UK hunger

The Trussell Trust has hit out at the UK’s benefit system after revealing 1.6m emergency food parcels were provided last year – a 73% increase over the last five years. The chief executive of the food bank network, Emma Revie, said it was unacceptable for the government to rely on them to fix its shortcomings, claiming that a fifth of referrals related to delays in receiving welfare. The Department for Work and Pensions has refuted the criticisms, arguing loans were available to people switching to universal credit to cover the time delay.


Maritime manoeuvres highlight Brexit risks

It can catch 2.3m fish on a two-month voyage (12% of supplies for UK fish and chip shops) and is the biggest trawler in the country, yet it appeared in an unlikely place this week. Kirkella, which is based in Hull, sailed up the Thames to highlight concerns that a bad Brexit will cut it off from key EU waters in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The British fleet owners are calling for a deal to be struck to prevent jobs in England being lost.


Craft beer bubble bursts

The craft beer boom could be fizzing out in the UK, with just eight new breweries opening in the last 12 months, compared to 390 the year before. Start-ups are finding it harder to muscle in on the industry as multinational brewers have gotten more involved in the lucrative industry, according to a new report.

image credit: Getty Images

Costa to launch new ready-to-drink coffees

Coca-Cola has announced its first initiative with Costa since completing its acquisition of the coffee chain in January. New ready-to-drink coffee brews are planned for launch in stores in the next few months, said the company, which also reported that sales of water, sports drink and water enhanced with minerals and vitamins saw growth of 6% in the first quarter of trading.


The pegan diet basics

The Telegraph explains the basics of the pegan eating trend. Combining the words paleo and vegan, the term is used to refer to a diet that encourages followers to cut back on meat and fish consumption (though not necessarily abandoning them entirely), while consuming unprocessed fruits and vegetables as well as plenty of nuts and seeds. Peganism has been trending on search engines and Pinterest in the past few months, and Instagram tags are also on the rise.


Queen of tarts

Pie and pastry art has been no the rise on social media, as Food Spark has previously highlighted. In the UK, one of the most popular figures in this movement is Julie Jones, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram liking her mouth-watering tarts.


CVAs pose real estate risk

UBS research has found that four of the UK’s largest real estate investment trusts are at risk due to the significant percentage of floor space given over to “shrinking” businesses. Looking at 1,477 retailers across 50 British shopping centres, the analysis revealed that 16% of Hammerson’s tenants, 15% of Intu’s, 12% of British Land’s and 7% of Landsec’s have entered administration or sought a CVA since 2012.


Sainsbury’s disposes of property assets

In response to the underperforming retail property sector, Sainsbury's and British Land have accepted £492m from a US property investment company for 12 superstores. Sainsbury’s plans to lease back the sites and continue to run the outlets.


Amazon posts record profits

Amazon has reported record profits of $3.6bn for the first three months of 2019. Though its shopping websites made up the largest proportion of revenues, it was the its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, that brought in the most profit.


Patisserie Valerie’s administration continues to provoke debate

Luke Johnson has been appointed to a committee of creditors for his former cake chain Patisserie Valerie, in a move some insiders have described as unusual. The committee is charged with selecting a new administrator and overseeing any potential legal claims against its auditors and directors.


Animal welfare on the hunt

It’s been a busy week for animal activists across the world. In the UK, campaigners against game shooting released 9,000 pheasants from a Suffolk farm, while a petition in Russia against smoked seal sausages has attracted 160,000 signatures.


Vegan canteen opens in university

Students in Berlin can now dine at a dedicated vegan canteen. Located at the Technical University, it is open to the public and serves up starters, mains, side dishes, salads and desserts, including the likes of pumpkin chia seed patties, pasta and a lentil and spelt grain curry. While 1.6% of the Berlin population are estimated to be vegan, it’s much more prevalent among younger citizens – a recent survey of 14,000 Berlin students found that 13.5% avoid animal products.


#MeToo moment in hospitality

The Evening Standard explores how the #MeToo movement is sweeping across the London hospitality scene, as the sector faces up to harassment and bullying in restaurants and bars.


Luckin out

A coffee start-up that only launched in June 2017 is taking on Starbucks in China. Luckin has almost reached 2,400 stores (Starbucks has 3,700) and is adding to that total every 15 hours. The target is 6,000 by 2023, which it partially plans to fund by floating on the US stock market.

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