Week on a Plate

The week digested: healthier KFC items fail to sell and till-free trial hits wall

Catch up on the food news from September 9-13, including the resurgent allergen crisis and the termination of Waitrose’s online partnership.

13 September 2019
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KFC reveals failure of healthier items

KFC has ditched healthier items from its menus after no one bought them. The chain spent around £8m installing ovens into outlets across the UK to bake or grill food, but non-fried items like grilled chicken sandwiches and pulled chicken failed to land with consumers, while attempts to make fries healthier led to complaints. The company did find success, however, with its rice box range, which comes with a single piece of fried chicken and salad.

 

Allergy death triggers more suggestions for safety regulations

A coroner investigating the death of an 18-year-old who was allergic to dairy has called for every restaurant menu to put a red ‘A’ next to dishes containing allergens. The family’s barrister said the omission to mention on the menu that the chicken breast was coated in buttermilk could lead people to believe it was served up plain. Aimee Leitner-Hopps, Byron’s technical manager, told the inquest that putting a red A on the menu would result in 95% of items being marked and it would be more beneficial to encourage people with allergens to have a discussion. She added that after the incident staff now ask people if they have any allergens or dietary requirements. Off the back of the ongoing concern over food-related deaths, The Guardian talks to allergen sufferers about chefs and restaurants not taking their dietary requirements seriously, sometimes because of the rise of lifestyle trends like eating gluten-free.

 

Waitrose reels in proposed online partnership

Waitrose has announced it is ending a planned partnership with start-up Today Development Partners (TDP) to grow its online business. The news comes following bitter recriminations between TDP’s founder, Jonathan Faiman, and his former partners at Ocado, which previously supplied Waitrose goods but has since switched allegiance to M&S.  

 

Shoppers not ready for till-free experience

Sainsbury's has returned checkouts to its Holborn branch, following an unsuccessful till-free trial. The supermarket found customers struggled with the concept and long queues were forming at the help desk, which was manned by one person. Customers complained they didn't want to use their mobile data to download the app required to shop and logging into the store's Wi-Fi was a lengthy process. However, the app is still available at Holborn and eight other stores.

 

Restaurants can save emptying town centres

Around 16 shops are closing a day, as a record number of stores shut their doors. The first half of 2019 saw 2,868 closures, twice as many as openings, while the number of CVAs has rocketed as landlords and chains strike deals to prolong operation. A report from Centre for Cities suggested more cafes and restaurants in town centres may improve the situation, as these provide a greater reason for customers to visit. “Retail is taking up less and less space on high streets across the country as customers shift to online shopping, while places to eat and drink are less replaceable and so have not seen the same decline,” said the report.

 

Co-op may air freight in fruit to shore up stocks

Retailers have warned that fresh fruit and vegetables will become scarcer and more expensive if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead and that customers’ weekly shops could be disrupted. Co-op’s chief executive, Steve Murrells, said he was particularly worried about price increases and shortages for fruit, and the supermarket could resort to air freight to bring in things like blueberries, apples and pears, as it also stockpiled products like canned goods and water. Meanwhile, DEFRA won’t release details on discussions it’s had with local authorities and the food industry over possible disruptions to food supplies, arguing there was a strong public interest to keep the details secret.

image credit: Getty Images

NFU announces scheme for carbon-neutral agriculture

The National Farmers’ Union has published a new plan to ensure the UK sector becomes climate neutral by 2040, but claims cutting beef production or converting areas of farmland into forest is not necessary to achieve the goal. Instead, it says three quarters of agricultural emissions in the UK can be offset by growing energy crops to fuel power stations and then capturing and burying the carbon dioxide, along with technology to reduce fertiliser use and emissions from cattle. Agriculture causes about 10% of the UK’s climate-heating emissions.

 

Morrisons doubles down on Amazon partnership to offset sales fall

Morrisons has signed a multi-year deal with Amazon to extend its grocery deliveries to more cities across the UK, including Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield and Portsmouth. The news counterbalanced the revelation that the supermarket has experienced its first quarterly sales decline since 2015, with its chief executive blaming Brexit uncertainty on consumer confidence. Like-for-likes dropped 1.9% in the first three months to August 4, though in the six months to that date pre-tax profit rose 5.3% to £198m. While Morrisons is stockpiling to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, the supermarket said it was better placed than others as it has its own farms and two-thirds of its products came from Britain.

 

And London’s top gastronomic experience is…

Chelsea restaurant The Five Fields has taken the big award at Harden’s London Restaurant Awards, snagging the title for the capital’s top gastronomic experience. Emily Roux’s Notting Hill restaurant, Caractere, was recognised as the best newcomer and the best fish and seafood accolade went to Tom Brown’s Cornerstone. For the first time there was a vegetarian and vegan category, which was won by Gauthier Soho, while JKS Restaurants (the group behind Lyle’s, Bao and Gymkhana) claimed the Outstanding Achievement Award.

 

England’s Health Profile is far from fighting fit

Nearly four in 10 children leaving primary school will be overweight or obese by 2024, according to Public Health England’s Health Profile for England 2019 report. Strategies for reducing childhood obesity floated by the government in July included widening the sugar tax on drinks, lowering the salt content of foods and introducing stricter rules on advertising junk food to children. The report also showed that 28.7% of adults are obese.

 

A very pig problem

African swine fever has hit another important pig-farming country. Its spread to the Philippines, the world's eighth biggest producer of pork, has resulted in a cull of 7,000 animals so far. The virus has already wreaked havoc on countries like China and Slovakia, pushing up global pork prices.

 

Berry good for you

Sea buckthorn is on the rise, according to a new global report, which suggests the berry’s high levels of vitamin c and omega fatty acids may make it popular with those looking for a healthy boost, while vegetarians and vegans may find it a helpful alternative source for vitamin B12 (predominantly found in animal products). Food Spark has previously noted that sea buckthorn has been appearing in both fruit leathers and smoothies.

image credit: Getty Images

Street food steps up

The Telegraph examines the appeal of the UK’s street food industry, which is now valued at £1.2bn. Informality, diversity and authenticity, are all cited as reasons for its success, which has seen Michelin-starred restaurants as well as retailers cashing in on the trend.

 

Milk and soda to be sold in glass containers

Sainsbury’s is considering selling milk and fizzy drinks in returnable glass bottles or refillable bottles in a bid to reduce its plastic packaging over the next six years. Analysis of its plastic footprint found the big problem areas were milk cartons, fruit and vegetable packaging, and containers for fruit juice, water and soft drinks. It is also looking to collaborate with food manufacturers, packaging firms, academics and rivals to tackle the plastic problem.

 

Quality Street shrinkflation

Quality Street has a Christmas surprise that might not be welcomed by some shoppers: its seasonal tubs have been downsized from 720g to 650g and will contain less toffee deluxe, which is being partially replaced by the new chocolate caramel brownie. For those that really want to size up, however, there will be a 1kg tin, a special 800g gold tin available only from Tesco and a giant 2kg tin stocked by Costco. Quality Street's West Yorkshire factory is now churning out 12m individual chocolates a day in time for Christmas.

 

Brits being groomed to accept chlorinated chicken

Scientists have written to MPs warning that the British public is being softened up to accept chlorinated chicken, despite the danger to health. Research shows that washing food in bleach does not kill many of the pathogens responsible for food poisoning and instead masks them when safety testing is done.

 

Reading into the research

The Times takes a look at the latest research that linked chicken to a higher risk of some cancers, but Cancer Research UK and the British Dietetic Association caution against cutting poultry out of the diet. It also looks at recent study from the World Health Organisation that found two artificially sweetened drinks a day may raise the risk of premature death and whether people should stop consuming diet drinks.

 

Hong Kong is game for British birds

Hong Kongers will soon be chowing down on British grouse, pheasant and partridge, as UK game is poised to head abroad for the first time as part of a new trade deal. Around 250,000 birds are heading for HK and its neighbour Macao, while Canada and Japan could be future importers.

 

Sexing up the sandwich

The Evening Standard notes the trend for sandwiches showing off and picks out what it thinks are the best offers in London. Hawksmoor wins for its steak sandwich, while Tata Eatery is recognised for its katsu sando; Monty Deli’s takes the gong for its salt beef, Kappacasein for its grilled cheese and the smoked eel sandwich from Quo Vadis is highlighted for those craving something fancy.

 

Handmade patties and chips engorge Honest sales

Honest Burger is bucking the downturn with quality and simplicity, according to founder Tom Barton. The chain, which works with local suppliers and has its own butchery to process 100% British beef, saw sales rise by more than a third to £31m, while pre-tax profit grew to £873,000.

 

Bakkavor

Over on the manufacture side, Bakkavor saw pre-tax profits fall 59% to £19.5m due to restructuring costs and the closure of a Lincolnshire facility. While revenue at the ready meal maker increased by 1.4%, this was largely down to international sales, while British turnover was flat.

 

Olive trees under threat

A disease that has killed more than 1m olive trees in Italy has now been found in the French Riviera for the first time. It can cause trees to die or to weaken them to the point where they can’t produce fruit.

image credit: Getty Images

Finalists announced for National Fish and Chip Awards

The shortlist for the 2020 National Fish and Chip Awards has been announced. Only one in London – Borough Market’s Fish, which also serves up fish pie, lobster, Thai fish cakes and fish finger sandwiches – made the top 10. Other nominees include Knights Fish & Chip Restaurant in Somerset, Malt and Anchor in Gloucestershire, Saltwater Fish Restaurant in Devon and Something Else Fishy in Dorset.

 

Veg-only meals for school lunches

A secondary school in Oxford is serving up solely vegetarian meals for lunch because it says the practice is better value for money and more environmentally friendly, with options like lentil lasagne and minted pea and feta frittata. Some parents, however, are concerned it’s leaving their children hungry.

 

Paxman labels Brits ‘litter louts’

Littering should be made as socially unacceptable as drink driving, says Jeremy Paxman, patron of the Clean Up Britain group, who is calling on the makers of goods like chewing gum and cigarettes to pay for a national campaign to change public behaviour. He claimed Brits are a “nation of litter louts,” fuelled by more eating on the go and the replacement of paper packaging with plastic. He added that government efforts to tackle the problem are utterly useless, although he supports the introduction of a deposit return scheme.

 

‘Spoons sales still strong

Wetherspoons reported strong sales for the year to the end of July, up by 7.4% to £1.81bn, while like-for-like sales also grew by 6.8%.

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