Week on a Plate

The week digested: Tesco’s plans for Finest stores and vertical farming attracts growing investment

Catch up on the food news from June 17-21, including Britain’s most plastic-clogged river and the veal deal.

21 June 2019

Tesco embraces future food and tech

Tesco has announced a raft of new measures to keep it competitive, including introducing robots, increasing plant-based ready meals tenfold and opening upmarket convenience stores that only sell its Finest own-label products. It also has its sights set on opening more than 100 One Stop outlets, trialling mini-robot-led distribution centres in the back of stores within the next year, as well as utilising robots to deliver groceries and check for gaps on shelves. It also wants self-scanning options like handsets and mobile apps to make its self-service checkouts cashless within five years. The retailer is simultaneously trying to retrieve money from staff they made redundant after an administrative error meant some were overpaid more than £500. The supermarket chain announced changes to its workforce in January but has not disclosed how many staff lost their jobs. 


Vertical farming attracts growing investment

The vertical farming arms race is underway, and the first Scottish company working in this field, Intelligent Growth Solutions, claims its technology needs just half the energy of competitors on the market to grow plants. The Dundee-based business has attracted £5.4m in funding from US investors off the back of demonstrations that showed different coloured lights helped to halve herb growing time, while app-controlled air vents contributed to creating ideal cultivation conditions.


Wahaca targeted for criticism over staff treatment

After being called out on social media for the “utterly shameful” practice of requiring waiters to cover part of a customer’s bill if they leave without paying, Mexican chain Wahaca was forced to clarify its policy, saying waitstaff don’t have to foot the bill but will be investigated if they are complicit in a walkout. The incident has re-opened the debate about how high street restaurant staff are treated, from zero-hour contracts to sexual harassment.

image credit: Cat Byers for Wahaca

Vegetable butcher hacks into East London

Sainsbury's has launched a meat-free butcher as part of a three-day experiment in East London, selling soya and wheat steaks, jackfruit burgers and its famed Shroomdogs. A poll of 2,000 consumers commissioned by the supermarket found more than half of Britons have never tried a plant-based alternative to meat, while a fifth dubbed plant-based diets ‘rabbit food.’


CVAs: help or hindrance?

Research from property group Colliers International has revealed that 954 stores have shut over the past two years as the result of CVAs, leading some to question whether the agreements are truly being used to avoid bankruptcy or merely as a tool to restructure businesses by renegotiating rents with landlords.



Gills-to-fin cooking is the latest food trend being explored by chefs, according to The Times, which highlights how traditional butchery skills are being used on fish. So-called ‘sea-cuterie’ includes ageing, preserving and drying fish to create things like six-month-old monkfish, salmon pastrami and treacle-cured bass 'ham.'


The veal deal

Veal’s bad reputation is undergoing a transformation from cruel cut to sustainable source of meat – at least when it comes to the variety know as rose veal. Formerly, male calves from dairy herds were often killed at birth or exported to the EU because they were seen as surplus to requirement, but ethically minded carnivores are increasingly interested in purchasing veal that comes from UK calves that have been reared outdoors to the age of around 8 months. “This British veal is often marketed as rose veal owing to its slightly darker colour which comes from its longer length of life, freedom to roam, and the addition of grain or forage to their diet," said a spokesperson from Farmdrop, a sustainable food delivery company that has seen a rise in consumer demand for this particular meat – a demand that has also been noticed by Waitrose.


Buy at John Lewis, return via Waitrose

Customers who want to return items purchased at John Lewis can now do so via Waitrose’s grocery delivery service, as the company aims to enhance convenience for consumers.


The unhealthy side to meat mimicry

The Times asks the experts whether processed vegan products that mimic meat or fish are actually healthy, particularly when some include ingredients like laxative tree pulp and fungal mould. It also deciphers some of the stranger-sounding ingredients that are commonly used.


Two yoghurts a day keeps cancer away

Two servings of yoghurt a day could help men reduce the risk of developing precancerous growths, a new University of Washington study has found. While the researchers, who followed a sample of 32,000 men over 25 years, could not identify the mechanism behind this effect – nor why a similar effect was not observed in women – they did hypothesise that it might have to do with bacteria in the gut. Katie Patrick, a health information officer from Cancer Research UK, commented that it was “too early to say from this study whether eating more yoghurt could reduce the risk of bowel cancer. However, there is good evidence that you can reduce your risk by eating more foods high in fibre, like wholegrain bread or brown rice, and cutting down on processed and red meat.”

image credit: Getty Images

Iceland launches halloumi burgers

Iceland has launched what it is claiming is a first-of its-kind halloumi burger, retailing for £2.50 for a pack of two. However, the burgers are made of 46% halloumi and 46% paneer cheese.


The Alchemist conjures up expansion plans

The Alchemist has four new sites in the pipeline for Birmingham, Portsmouth, Canary Wharf and Embassy Gardens. The brand is also looking to international expansion as the bar and restaurant group forecasts revenues of £50m this year.


Is this the most excessive tasting menu ever?

Over in Copenhagen, a different Alchemist is capturing attention. The restaurant took two years and $15m to complete and is helmed by chef Rasmus Munk, described by The Financial Times as a “gastro-provocateur.” The 28-year-old’s 50-course, five-hour tasting menu promises to shock and provoke in equal measure with dishes like pork impaled by a chilli-oil-filled syringe, “a comment on antibiotic use in pig rearing.” Opening on July 4 in a city that already boasts such leading gastronomic lights as Noma and Geranium, the waiting lists already exceeds 15,000 people.


Mersey tops ranking of Britain’s most polluted rivers

The Mersey is the most polluted river of 13 sampled in Britain, according to a Greenpeace report, which found it had about 2m pieces of microplastic per square kilometre. The next most polluted river was the Thames, although it had significantly fewer pieces of plastic (108) compared to the Mersey (942).


image credit: Kellogg

We’d rather have a bowl of… White Choc Coco Pops?

Kellogg’s has launched White Choc Coco Pops into UK supermarkets this week, with the company claiming the product has 30% less sugar on average than other chocolate rice cereals.


Indie cafe chain valued at £100m

Black Sheep Coffee has secured £13m in funding and been valued at £100m. The independent coffee shop chain currently has 34 stores, predominantly in London, but hopes to double that number this year.


Profiting from coffee culture

Italian chain Caffe Concerto, which took over nine Patisserie Valerie sites after its collapse, has reported a 9.3% increase in revenue to £27.4m from the year to August 2018.


Is Beyond Meat a bubble waiting to burst?

Beyond Meat entered the US stock market with a bang last month, with shares climbing as much as 646%, but some analysts are warning this could be a bubble that is about to burst.


Finalists for Young Chef of the Year revealed

Chefs from the likes of Cinnamon Club, Kricket, Umu and Bread Street Kitchen have been shortlisted for the Young Chef of the Year competition. The under-30s were selected after submitting a four-course menu suggestion and will cook in their own pop-up takeover night at M Victoria in July, where they will be judged by restaurant industry experts and diners.


Eating your way through the smog

The Evening Standard sets out the best foods to fight fumes after research showed links between what people eat and protection against air pollution. 


Unilever CEO criticises cynical rhetoric

Unilever's chief executive Alan Jope has hit out at companies that use worthy causes to increase their sales but don't back up the rhetoric with action, claiming it could further destroy consumer trust in the industry.


Clean living is not so clean

While a wellness lifestyle is promoted as being good for the world, many of the health foods that are staples of the diet actually exploit the environment and workers. UK consumers should be looking to eat the superfoods that are on their doorsteps instead like kale and nettles, according to an article in The Evening Standard.


Tinned tomatoes fund the mafia

Speaking of exploitation, The Guardian investigates whether tinned tomatoes are being picked by slave labour, as it dives deep in to how the Italian mafia makes millions by exploiting migrants.


Nice buns

The Guardian looks at the evolution of the burger bun in pubs and restaurants and muses whether we have reached the end of the line for bun creativity.

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