Week on a Plate

The week digested: Sainsbury’s-Asda merger thrown into doubt and Greggs reaps vegan benefits

Catch up on the food news from February 18-22, including the investigation into Kraft Heinz and a ranking of supermarket online delivery.

22 February 2019

Asda-Sainsbury’s merger in doubt

The proposed Asda-Sainsbury's tie-up has been dealt a major blow by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which released a provisional verdict expressing extensive concern, saying the deal would likely entail higher prices, reduced quality and less choice for consumers. The CMA argued that the tie-up, which would leave the group with a market share over 30%, would affect competition at both a national and local level, and it was likely that it would be difficult for the supermarkets to address the concerns. But Asda and Sainsbury's are determined to continue fighting to get the merger approved. Mike Coupe, the chief executive of Sainsbury's, declared the CMA analysis fundamentally flawed.


Asda sales rise while Sainsbury’s sees fall

In sales updates from the supermarkets, Asda reported like-for-like sales growth of 1% in the three months to December, but warned there were challenging times ahead, while Tesco saw rises of 0.7% in the same quarter. Sainsbury's did not fare so well, with sales falling by 1,1%. In a report intended for bondholders that was leaked, Iceland also took a hit, with sales falling by 1% over the 16 weeks to January 4.


UberEats undercuts Just Eat in delivery war

The battle for delivery dollars is heating up: UberEats has announced it is reducing its fees for restaurants from 30% to 35%, undercutting rival Just Eat. It will also allow places to list on the service but use their own delivery drivers, opening the marketplace up to 100 towns and cities. Just Eat's shares fell by 5% upon the news – the company earns most of its profit from listings and has only recently launched its own delivery service.


Agriculture blamed for biodiversity threat

The world's ability to produce food is under severe threat, according to research from the UN, due to a loss of biodiversity like plants, insects and organisms that are crucial to the environment. Approximately 20% of the earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive over the last 20 years, said the report, with agriculture often to blame due to unsustainable farming practices like the reliance on chemicals.


Debate continues over deposit return schemes

As part of the government’s proposed environment bill, millions of households could have their food waste bins collected weekly and a deposit return scheme could be introduced to capture the 3bn plastic bottles that are incinerated, sent to landfill or discarded. However, environmental groups are concerned that the deposit return scheme may only target drinks less than 750ml, which would water down its impact. The bill is expected to be introduced in the second session of parliament after Easter. Meanwhile, the Treasury has launched a consultation on its plans to introduce a tax on plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. It comes after experts found plastic contaminants inside seabird eggs in the high Arctic, one of the planet’s most remote habitats.


Nutella factory puts the brakes on spread

Unspecified “quality defects” have led confectionery giant Ferrero to halt production of Nutella at its Normandy factory, which accounts for a quarter of the brand’s spread manufacture.

Kraft Heinz faces investigation

The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a subpoena to Kraft Heinz over its procurement accounting policies. Shares fell 17% after the multinational manufacturer announced a net loss of $12.7bn (£9.74bn) in the fourth quarter of last year, due to a $15.4bn impairment charge. “The company is in the process of implementing certain improvements to its internal controls to mitigate the likelihood of this occurring in the future and has taken other remedial measures,” said the food giant in an official statement.


Greggs reaps benefits of vegan NPD

Greggs’ vegan sausage roll has been a win for the bakery business as publicity surrounding it helped boost the company coffers. Sales climbed nearly 10% in the seven weeks to 16 February.


Which retailer provides the worst delivery?

The answer is Asda, according to a Which? survey, which found that only 65% of customers were satisfied with the service they received. More than 55% said they had received at least one substitution in their last order, with some of the most unhelpful swaps including parsley for basil, potato gratin for macaroni cheese and red wine vinegar for red wine. The supermarket fared no better when it came to in-store ratings, with the quality of its fresh produce and own-brand offering receiving particular criticism. On the other side of the spectrum, Ocado topped the delivery rankings, receiving praise for delivery slot availability, range of products and drivers’ service, while Waitrose was crowned the best in-store experience, followed closely by M&S, then Aldi and Lidl.


Sunday roast dubbed bad for health

Cooking a Sunday roast could be a bad choice for your health, with new research showing that using gas to cook meat and vegetables could make the inside of a house dirtier than breathing in air in central London or Delhi. Scientists recommended keeping windows open when cooking and using an extraction fan.

image credit: Getty Images

Lamb in excess

Sheep farmers should be awarded monetary compensation to prevent a mass slaughter of lambs in the event of a no-Brexit deal, according to the National Farmers Union. The breeders rely on exports, but crashing out of Europe could mean a six-month delay before the EU authorises UK imports, creating an excess of animals. In other farming news, new research suggests European agricultural producers could switch to environmentally friendly methods, including organic, and still feed the continent’s population.


Further tariff fears

Tariffs of 40% or more could be imposed on food like beef, cheddar cheese and mozzarella if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead, warned the British Retail Consortium and Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, with costs passed on to consumers. It could also see delays in supply and shortages of fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.


Palm oil proliferation

Palm oil is in everything, from biscuits to ice cream and crisps. Globally, we consume on average 8kg a year. Production is expected to reach 240m tonnes by 2050, with current plantations accounting for 10% of all global cropland. The Guardian takes a look at whether industries can break the habit of using the world’s most versatile vegetable oil.


Are food halls the future?

Restaurant-quality food in a casual setting – that’s what places like London’s Victoria Market Hall, Liverpool’s Baltic Market and Manchester’s Mackie Mayor are promising punters, as the food hall fad picks up steam across the country. The Telegraph highlights informality, price point and diverse offerings as some of the main reasons these developments are gaining traction, as more are being announced in London, Liverpool and even York.


Canadians aim to swallow Dairy Crest

Dairy Crest, the British producer of Cathedral cheese, has received a takeover bid worth £975m from Saputo, one of Canada's largest dairy companies. Dairy Crest will recommend that shareholders accept the offer.

Welsh produce enters TV spotlights

The latest winner of My Million Pound Menu is Coracle, a concept based on cooking British dishes using Welsh ingredients. Meals include mutton with Pembrokeshire seaweed broth, mussels with wild garlic, and Glamorgan beef rib served with calcot onions and malt vinegar.


Airline menu transfers to restaurant

Air Asia’s in-flight menu is so good it deserves its own restaurant – at least according to founder Tony Fernandes, who plans to use it as the basis for a fast-food joint called Santan (coconut milk in Malay).


Samurai plant may slow ageing

Proving that sometimes there may be a grain of truth in folkloric wisdom, a new study has found that the ashitaba plant – believed by Japanese samurai to promote long life due to the speed at which it regenerates – could slow ageing in humans. It certainly appears to do that for fruit flies and worms, which saw lifespans extend by 20% when fed the leaves. Mice, meanwhile, saw improved heart function.


McColl’s profits take a hit

Profits were down at c-store chain McColl’s last year, largely due to the collapse of wholesale Palmer & Harvey. Pre-tax profits more than halved to £7.9m, while like-for-likes were down 1.4%. Total revenue went up 8.1%, however, largely thanks to sales achieved by the 300 Co-op stores that McColl’s purchased in 2017.


Mushroom mix up may have had fatal consequence

Amidst the popularity of foraged ingredients, Michelin-starred RiFF in Valencia has closed after one of its diners died, possibly from eating a poisonous mushroom served as part of a tasting menu. Another 11 visitors to the restaurant reported feeling ill following meals on the same day, though the actual cause cannot be confirmed until toxicology reports are completed.

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