Week on a Plate

The week digested: raking over the ashes of the Ocado fire while spuds shrink

Catch up on the food news from February 4-8, including why mode of death might be included on meat labels and how the Duchess of Cornwall is putting the spotlight on Cuban cuisine.

8 February 2019

Ocado warehouse (and shares) go up in smoke

Ocado has been forced to cancel thousands of customer orders after a fire swept through its warehouse in Hampshire, resulting in part of the roof collapsing. The warehouse, which is one of the online grocer’s four main fulfilment centres, usually handles more than 4,000 orders a day and had as much as £6m worth of goods. Ocado issued a stock warning that its profits would be hit by the fire, but said it had comprehensive insurance. Shares in the company fell 14% as a result, erasing more than £1bn of the company’s value.


And in other Ocado news…

The disaster happened following Ocado’s announcement that its revenue was up by 12.3% to nearly £1.6bn – thought its profits fell by nearly 21% last year. Prior to the warehouse fire, the company had said it expected revenue from its retail business to grow between 10-15% this year as a result of increasing market share in the UK and the growing capacity of its fulfilment centres. It had also just revealed a new one-hour delivery service called Zoom. Designed to compete with Amazon Prime, Zoom is targeted at shoppers who spend less than £60 on food in a store, which accounts for more than half of the basket sizes in the UK grocery market.


Shrinking spuds

Potatoes were left substantially smaller than usual due to the UK’s hot summer – an inch shorter, in fact – while carrot and onion yields were also down. The news comes as a new report, titled Recipe for Disaster, examines the implications of climate change on UK fruit and veg growers.


Fruit and veg sales rise

Poorer crop yield comes as around £46m more was spent on fruit and veg this January compared to the same month last year, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel. The data also showed the consumption of meat-free meals rising by 150m to 4.4bn throughout 2018. “Today, 1% of all households include a vegan, 5% have a vegetarian and 10% have flexitarians in their ranks,” said Kantar's Fraser McKevitt.


Stop ‘virtue signalling’

The chief secretary to the Treasury has said politicians and quangos should stop telling people how much pizza and alcohol they can consume. Liz Truss opined that “what we should focus on is intervening ... to make sure people are capable of making their own decisions, rather than micro-managing their lives."


New tech improves wheat crop – but is banned in UK

Researchers have pioneered a new technique to develop wheat crops that are resistant to stem rust, an infection that decimates them otherwise. It cuts the cost of creation of the crops from £1m to a few thousand pounds. However, as it involves genetic modification, it currently can’t be used on commercial crops in the UK.

image credit: Getty Images

Poultry props up Cranswick amid falling pork sales

Cranswick has warned that tough trading conditions and the cost of its new £60m factory – which will have the ability to process 1.2m chickens a week – will hit profits next year. The factory is expected to open in the first quarter of 2020 and Morrison's has signed up to be the site’s first customer. Cranswick declared a 2% slide in revenues in the last three months of 2018, but poultry and its continental range, including olives and sun-dried tomatoes, performed well. Its pork-related products saw a decline in sales.


KPMG’s head of retail shares gloomy outlook

Retail sales rose at an annual rate of 2.2% in January after a flat December, according to figures from KPMG and the British Retail Consortium. Despite the growth, Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, was downbeat: “This increase points more to British shoppers’ obsession with bagging a bargain and price inflation, rather than any real improvement, and these peaks and troughs continue to leave retailers feeling increasingly anxious.” The total percentage sales growth over November, December and January was half that of the same period a year ago.


Auditors are at fault for fraud

Despite Patisserie Valerie's auditors Grant Thornton claiming that audits were not designed to catch fraud, David Dunckley, head of the Financial Reporting Council, has retorted that auditors are clearly responsible for detecting fraud, but often bought into a "mythology" that they wouldn't find it in businesses books. Dunckley said the audit market is broken and the watchdog needs further powers to fix it.


Unilever snaps up snacks

Unilever has purchased snack box company Graze, saying the brand offers convenience, nutritional benefits and attracts a millennial crowd. 


Food labels could become animal death certificates

In a wider review of food labelling laws that are due to take place after Brexit, the government is considering including information on how animals die – for example, if they are not stunned before slaughter to meet some religious requirements. More than 120m animals in England were killed without pre-stunning in the 12 months to September, including 118m chickens, 3m sheep and 24,000 cattle. The British Veterinary Association supports the move, but Shimon Cohen from Schechita UK, a group that supports the traditional Jewish way of slaughtering animals, told the Times the measure could mislead consumers.


Camilla puts Cuban in the spotlight

The director of Latin American restaurant Paladar, Charles Taylor, takes a look at Cuban food after Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, expressed reservations about the cuisine prior to a trip planned for spring. He says to expect a lot of braises, roasted meat and stews with tomatoes, with the food a mix of Spanish, African and Caribbean. His top recommendations? A dish called ropa vieja, a beef stew, and lechon, a spit-roasted pig.

image credit: Getty Images

Celery juice claims 'superfood' status

Model Miranda Kerr drinks it and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site recommends it, so could celery juice be the next big health fad? The drink has racked up over 67,000 hashtags on Instagram and is said to have anti-inflammatory properties – all anecdotal, of course, since no studies have been conducted into the vegetable liquid.


Vegetarian concept draws on the Middle East, North Africa and India

Indo-Persian outfit Devi’s is the latest to triumph on My Million Pound Menu. The food is on trend – vegetarian and largely vegan – with influences from India, Kenya, Persia, the Middle East, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Signature recipes include a Peshawari cauliflower qorma and a dish of avocado served with turmeric, charred corn makki ki roti and Aleppo lime butter. The food concept focuses on female chefs and suppliers, and can be found at Maltby Street Market, as well as featuring as a pop-up restaurant and at supper clubs. 


Fish wars loom

The fishing industry is concerned its future could be at risk if British vessels are prevented from catching cod and haddock in Norwegian waters after Brexit. With 167m portions of fish and chips served every year, the industry doesn’t want to see a situation where the fish has to be imported.


Good for the gut

The Telegraph highlights seven ways to boost gut health, including eating lots of fibre, probiotics, prebiotics, and cutting back on sugar and rich foods. (Massages also help, apparently.)


Ketchup caviar

Heinz has created a ketchup caviar as it celebrates 150 years of the red sauce. However, the Guardian wasn’t impressed, describing it as “sadly thinner and more acidic than regular Heinz, and tastes more like an own brand sauce rather than the deep, rich delights of proper glass-bottled Heinz.”

image credit: Heinz

Introducing the bagelizza

The latest crazy food hybrid? The bagelizza – a cross between a pizza and bagel. Notting Hill restaurant Mulberry Street is dishing up these 12-inch monsters for a day. Each weighs 1.5kg and includes 300g of mozzeralla, 21-day aged grass-fed brisket pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese shavings, Russian dressing and marinara sauce.


Jamie Oliver seeks further funds

Jamie Oliver is looking for private equity funding or a trade backer for the next stage of his expansion and has appointed advisers to aid the search. The plans include accelerating international openings and revamping the format of his Jamie’s Italian brand in the UK.


Ushering in a new mode of dining

Gary Usher, who is behind four neighbourhood joints in the north of England, including Liverpool's Wreckfish and the soon-to-open Kala in Manchester, wants everyone to feel welcome in his restaurants, whether they dress like a lord or the boiler man. Channel 4 has commissioned a series about him, prompting the Times takes a look at his rise in the restaurant world.


Vegan eats in NYC

The Evening Standard selects its top picks for vegan and vegetarian eating in New York in 2019, including Ramen Hood, By Chloe, Beyond Sushi, Nix, The Butcher’s Daughter, Divya’s Kitchen, abcV and Café Clover.


Food-to-go chain invests in homeless shelter

Pret a Manger's charitable foundation will invest £200,000 in a homeless hostel in London as part of its Rising Stars scheme to provide jobs and training for people who once lived on the street.


Love sausage gets hard response

While people have had some fun with the name on social media, M&S has released a heart shaped 'love sausage' in time for Valentine's Day. It is lightly truffled and wrapped in bacon.

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