Week on a Plate

The week digested: labelling law proposals and the latest on Patisserie Valerie

Catch up on the food news from January 21-25, including new shrinkflation figures, the UK launch of Starbucks delivery and the latest Brexit headlines.

25 January 2019
BrexitcoffeedairyicelandlabellingmanufactureTesco

Calais congestion

We lead with a trio of Brexit stories this week. First up, the Guardian grabs a ride with a British driver that transports frozen food into France, encountering an already-congested Calais.

 

Storage wars

The panic over a no-deal Brexit has meant those seeking warehouse spaces are being turned away. Food warehouses, which are stockpiling everything from garden peas to potatoes and half-cooked supermarket bread, are fully booked. Meanwhile, Tesco has rented frozen food containers for the rest of the year – something it would normally only do over Christmas. It can be a costly exercise, too, with storing a pallet of crisps the same price as a pallet load of whisky.

 

A fishy Brexit business

Despite previous statements that side agreements with the UK would not be countenanced following a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission is now contemplating just such measures to protect EU fisheries. Many continental fleets are dependent on UK waters for their catch, but a no-deal scenario would shut them out abruptly, causing significant economic damage to the sector. The EU has prepared two contingency plans: one would see €1.1bn used to prop up fisheries in the worst affected nations, while the second (and more controversial) proposal would allow EU states to negotiate separate mini deals with the UK – something the EU has previously claimed would be impossible.

 

Patisserie Valerie latest

Patisserie Valerie has fallen into administration with around 70 stores out of 200 closing immediately, putting almost 1,000 people out of a job. The profitable sites will keep trading as the cake chain seeks a buyer, while the company's chairman, Luke Johnson, personally extended a £3m loan to ensure staff wages are paid in January. Some shareholders are now considering legal action in light of the rapid decline of the business after a £40m black hole in its accounts was uncovered. Johnson is unlikely to buy back the chain due to concerns about a potential backlash, but former Druckers owner, David Scott, who sold his business to Patisserie Valerie in 2007, is said to be interested in acquiring the remaining estate. Hoping to make the business more attractive to buyers, the company is in discussions with HMRC about retrieving some of the tax paid to the government, since the overstating of its finances means it has likely overpaid. Meanwhile, HMRC has revealed that it alerted Patisserie Valerie’s parent company to concerns some of its invoices and cheques had been forged two years prior to the alleged fraud that has brought the chain to its knees.

 

Shrinkflation

One fifth of food products shrunk in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics, with breads and cereals the most affected. Meats and sweets were the other categories where products were most likely to have gotten smaller, though in most cases the price of products remained the same. Some analysts have said that the cost of raw materials in the last couple of years does not appear to relate to the shrinking of products, with an employee at financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown saying: “It may simply be that manufacturers have found a way to boost profits under the radar.”

 

Ethical credentials front of mind for giants of retail and manufacture

The bosses of Unilever, Walmart and Cargill have all highlighted the importance of demonstrating ethical credentials in order to capture consumers. At the Davos World Economic Forum, Walmart’s Doug McMillon stated that customers today are interested in “how the product was made and delivered and how people were treated in the supply chain,” a position reiterated by Cargill’s David MacLennan, who said: “People want to know more about their food and where it’s coming from. It’s becoming part of their identities and driving massive change in the food industry.” Unilever’s Alan Jope, meanwhile, stated: “We are past the tipping point in the debate about whether people are prepared to pay for ethically sourced goods. The answer is unequivocally ‘yes.’”

 

Starbucks will deliver to Londoners

Starbucks has announced it will bring its coffee delivery service to the UK for the first time at the end of January, following successful trials in the US. Partnering with Uber Eats, the chain claims 95% of its menu will be available to order for Londoners, who will be test subjects for the popularity of the move.

Will these labelling regulations become law?

Government has published proposals for new labelling laws, ranging from requiring outlets to list ingredients on all pre-packaged food to forcing the detailing of all possible allergens. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will consult on the proposals.

 

Iceland says its palm oil proposals were unfeasible

With palm oil still in 32 of Iceland's own-label products, the pledge to remove it from the entire range has proved too expensive, said Richard Walker, the joint managing director of Iceland. Instead, it has taken its name off the packaging, rather than remove the palm oil, and claims this still honours its pledge to stop using the ingredient by the end of 2018. There are a further 15 chilled lines where suppliers have concluded it isn’t technically feasible to replace palm oil with another ingredient. "Palm oil is in half of everything that supermarkets sell, and it would be commercial suicide not to offer our customers the leading brands they want to buy," Walker added.

 

Final Tesco director acquitted of wrongdoing

Tesco’s former UK finance chief was acquitted on Wednesday of fraud charges, following the previous acquittal of two other former Tesco directors in December, bringing to a close the accounting scandal that saw Britain’s largest retailer accused of misstating profit. Several papers have focused on the impact of the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) – essentially a plea bargain – that Tesco made with the Serious Fraud Office prior to the trials. The case against the directors was dismissed by a judge due to lack of evidence, but the supermarket chain had already signed a DPA stating they were culpable in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution – at the cost of a £129m fine.

 

Dairy dismissed from Canada’s dietary recommendations

In a sign of the changing times, Health Canada has banished dairy from its updated food guide. The government body, which is in charge of national public health, now recommends the daily diet include 50% fruit and vegetables, 25% proteins and 25% starchy wholegrain foods – along with plenty of water.

image credit: Dash_med/iStock/Thinkstock

Restaurant Group sales hit by flop in film figures

A drop in cinema attendance in December had a knock-on effect on the Restaurant Group’s 2018 like-for-like sales, causing a 2% drop. Fewer visits to retail parks to see films meant less custom for the company’s Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito chains, though its latest (and much debated) acquisition, Wagamama, is said to have “continued to trade well over the festive period.”

 

Marston’s to prune estate

Pub chain Marston's has said it will sell some of its sites and cut back on investment, in order to reduce its debt by £200m. Despite announcing 5.7% growth in like-for-like sales over Christmas, it didn’t manage to match the double-digit figures from rivals.

 

Fuller’s sold to Asahi

Japanese beer giant Asahi is poised to take over the brewing arm of Fuller, Smith & Turner. Some redundancies are expected following the £250m deal, which sees the British brand join Peroni, Grolsch and Estrella in the Asahi stable.

 

Celebrated chef Andrew Fairlie passes away

Tributes have been pouring in for Andrew Fairlie, the acclaimed chef who ran a much-lauded restaurant at the Gleneagles Hotel. The only person to hold two Michelin stars in Scotland, he was the first winner of the Roux Scholarship in 1984 and one of only seven UK cooks to be named a Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef. He passed away this week after a prolonged battle with cancer.

 

Were December’s retail sales up or down?

The Financial Times digs into data discrepancies between the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) over the Christmas period. While the former said UK retail sales in December were the weakest in a decade, the latter announced a 2.7% rise. According to the article, the BRC’s figures are representative of food retailer sales, but are less reliable when it comes to online and non-food sales.

 

Tesco and FareShare partner on food waste classes

Tesco has teamed up with food charity FareShare to launch a national cookery school programme to train community cooks in how to turn unused ingredients into healthy meals. The supermarket’s development chefs worked with Jamie Oliver to create nutritionally balanced recipes. FareShare says there are an estimated 250m meals that could still could be created from readily available food that is currently thrown away.

 

Loch Duart invests in modern tech

Loch Duart, a Scottish salmon farm that supplies restaurants around the world, has raised £1.2m to modernise its operations, including developing more efficient farming methods and buying additional barges that require less manual labour to feed its fish. Its salmon has been used by chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc and Rick Stein, and the company produces 5,000t of fish a year.

 

Salsify for supper?

Food Spark looked at the modern-day revival of salsify last year, but now the Guardian is examining why the vegetable is suddenly back on trend and how chefs are using it.

image credit: Getty Images

Delivery boss gets on his bike

Just Eat’s chief executive Peter Plumb has left the delivery giant immediately after 16 months with the company, following a fall in the group’s shares and investor criticism. The company is in the process of building its own network of couriers to better compete with Deliveroo and Uber Eats, which has hit profit margins.

 

A filthy vegan burger

Filth, Rosemary Ferguson and Gizzi Erskine’s pop-up in Shoreditch, wants to become the McDonald’s of vegan burgers, enabling people to access healthy food at as low a price as possible. The burger patty is made of quinoa, black bean, beetroot and a few secret ingredients, and was a reaction to the Impossible Burger, although Erskine wanted something that tasted less like eating “meaty polystyrene.”

 

Pilgrim makes progress

Inspired by the food of northwestern Spain, Pilgrim will be holding its last supper club in London before it graduates into a fully-fledged restaurant that is set to open in Liverpool in April. The team recently appeared on My Million Pound Menu and dishes up eats like salt-baked king scallop with mushroom and sherry consomme served with a Xeco Fino sherry.

 

Haggis reinvention

In honour of Burns Night (tonight, in case you’re wondering), haggis has been getting a modern makeover. Edinburgh’s Macsween sells versions adapted for vegan, gluten-free and pregnant women, while Yorkshire-based Farmison sells heritage-breed haggis made using lamb rather than mutton. There’s also haggis infused with tonic wine from Stirling’s Rendalls.

 

How to charm the Chinese

Tourist operators and restaurants in the Scottish Highlands are being urged to tap into the growing numbers of Chinese visitors in the area by providing Pot Noodles, disposable chopsticks and menus with pictures of the food.

 

Sat Bains on the man who called his restaurant 450 times

How do chefs cope when their restaurants become famous and foodies and tourists descend on them? Sat Bains, whose self-named restaurant has two Michelin stars, talks about the man who called 450 times to reserve a space and the expectations that creates. Others describe the disruption of winning a Michelin star or other accolade.

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