Week on a Plate

The week digested: the extent of milk wastage and the gene-editing tool that could boost British food

Catch up on the food news from November 26-30, including why mini cheese snacks are selling better than sweet biscuits and the latest statistics on pub closures.

30 November 2018

Revamping fruit and veg for kids

Fruit and vegetables given to children under a government scheme are largely imported, often of poor quality and have higher levels of pesticide residues than supermarket equivalents, a report from the Soil Association has revealed. Children’s health campaigners are urging the government to revamp the £40m school fruit and vegetable scheme, saying it is failing in its mission to encourage young people to eat more fresh produce and is creating food waste. The association is urging the government to “re-specify” the scheme so that a higher proportion of the produce is British, local and organic, and therefore fresher, tastier, of known provenance and more enjoyable for children.


Less pubs, more pub staff

Pub employment figures in the UK are rising despite establishment closures, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The 6% rise in jobs is due to a combination of “destination pubs” (those in popular tourist areas) and an increased focus on food. Though smaller pubs (those with fewer than 10 staff) have gone from 38,830 to 22,840 since 2001, larger operations have gone from 13,670 to 15,975. Hackney, meanwhile, has seen the highest growth in pubs anywhere in the country with 30 openings in the last 17 years. The gentrification of the area has made it the strongest local authority region in the country for pub growth over the period, in contract to the 26% fall in the number of drinking holes nationwide.


Unilever boss steps down

Unilever’s chief executive, Paul Polman, is stepping down following a shareholder revolt that forced the company to scrap its planned move from London to Rotterdam. The group, whose brands include Marmite and Magnum ice-cream, ditched its plan to simplify its dual Anglo-Dutch structure in October following an unprecedented rebellion from its UK investors. Polman will be succeeded on January 1 by Alan Jope, currently the president of beauty and personal care, Unilever’s biggest division. Unilever has also been busy on the acquisition front, edging out fellow bidders Nestlé and Coca-Cola to snap up GlaxoSmithKline’s nutrition business. This will give them control of the Horlicks brand, which the businesses hopes will help bolster its presence in India, its most important emerging market.


Gene-editing tools to bloom in Britain

Britain will lead an agricultural revolution with the use of gene editing despite concerns about genetically modified food, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has said. He has pledged that scientists and farmers will be freed from a European Court ruling that effectively halted the use of food produced using the technology. Scientists believe that the technique will lead to crops and animals with higher yields, resistance to disease and the ability to cope with the effects of climate change.


Say (mini) cheese

Sweet biscuits are out and mini portions of cheese are in, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel. Babybel and Laughing Cow introduced campaigns aiming their products at adults this year, and the approach appears to have worked, with a £9.2m rise in the category and volumes up 7.2%.

Big business backs Brexit deal

Diageo, Nestlé and the Food and Drink Federation have told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that they back Theresa May’s Brexit deal. While there were concerns about future trade arrangements, the consensus was that the withdrawal agreement on the table is certainly better than no deal at all.


Sweet success for Cake Box

Cake Box co-founder Sukh Chamdal has said he hopes to open two new stores a month for the next five years, following the release of the egg-free cake brand’s first financial results since joining the Alternative Investment Market. While sales rose 44% to £8.28m in the six months to September, the cost of the company’s IPO caused profits to drop 7% to £1.37m.


Udder-ly appalling milk wastage

One in six pints of milk and 116m dairy products produced around the world are lost or wasted, according to research conducted at Edinburgh University. Retailers, distributors and consumers are responsible for half of this waste, throwing away roughly 60m tonnes of dairy a year. About 55m tonnes are lost before they even reach a store – during production and distribution – due to spoilage and waste at the farm, or while the milk is being distributed and exported abroad.


Staff fail to pass allergen test

Undercover reporters from the BBC were given false or misleading allergen information when they visited Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Frankie & Benny’s and Nando’s. They visited five branches of six restaurant chains and found that only Pizza Express gave clear, correct allergen information on every occasion. 


When vegans attack

A group of vegan activists is planning to stage a series of raids at restaurants that serve meat after bursting into a steakhouse and playing a recording of animals being slaughtered. The Direct Action Everywhere group held a demonstration at the Brazilian-themed Touro Steakhouse in Brighton on Saturday as part of a co-ordinated global day of “disruptive protest” in defence of animal rights.


Currying favour

London curry houses Baluchi and Chilli Tuk Tuk scooped some of the top prizes in the 14th edition of the British Curry Awards. Baluchi on Tooley Street earned the award for best London curry restaurant, while Chilli Tuk Tuk was named the best curry takeaway in the country.

Sainsbury’s gets burned by ‘well-fired’ loaves

Sainsbury’s is facing criticism for selling “well-fired” loaves of bread that contain a cancer-causing chemical. Health experts said the loaves, which have overcooked, black crusts, should come with a health warning because they contain above-normal levels of acrylamide, a chemical in burnt food that can build up in the body to increase the risk of cancer. The overcooked loaves have been available at the supermarket since the 1980s. Sainsbury’s said that the acrylamide levels in its well-fired loaves were “well within the FSA benchmark levels.”


What’s next for JKS restaurants?

The three siblings in charge of JKS Restaurants, the group behind the likes of Gymkhana, Hoppers and Bao, talk about how they choose which hotspots join their empire and why they avoid single-concept plans like chippies, cheese toasties and duck restaurants.  The trio get at least one pitch a week but to be a success it must stack up creatively and commercially, though a big part of their decision making is based on instinct. JKS hope to open two to four more restaurants in London next year and think there is still room for more specialisation within Asian cuisine.


Filipino chain heats up London

Lines out the door are the norm at the UK’s first Jollibee, a Filipino fast-food chain whose loyal following among immigrants from the Philippines seems to assure success – even if critic Michael Deacon finds the food (fried chicken with spaghetti in a red sauce, sprinkled with slices of hot dog) “cartoonish.”


Phones off at Frankie & Benny’s

Frankie & Benny’s will introduce no-phone zones in its 250 UK restaurants. Customers are encouraged to place their devices in a box on arrival at the table, with free children’s meals offered as an incentive. It follows research by the company that found that 72 % of children wished that their parents spent less time engrossed in mobile devices at mealtimes. (Although Steve Dresser, a retail analyst, suggested that the move could be a good way to stop diners leaving negative comments on social media due to wait times.)

NHS prescribes soups and shakes

Thousands of people with diabetes will be put on ultra-low-calorie diets in an NHS trial that could lead to soup-and-shake prescriptions for the obese. Another 100,000 at risk of diabetes will be given cookery and dance lessons as well as activity trackers.


Morrisons unveils a savoury churro

Morrisons will start selling a savoury version of Spanish churros next month, filled with cheese and accompanied by red pepper, a tomato dip and grated cheese sprinkle. While there was some social media outrage, Morrisons has stood firm on its decision. “Our customers appreciate it when we do a twist on a popular classic,” a spokesman said.


Greene King boss leaves on a high note

Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand’s last set of results suggests he’s going out on a high. Strong like-for-like sales were reported in the group’s core managed pub business and revenues were up 7.5% in its brewing arm. Part of this was attributed to a £10m investment to improve its value for money, customer service and quality.


Kraft Heinz goes Primal

Kraft Heinz has snapped up American healthier-for-you brand Primal Kitchen, which makes paleo-friendly condiments. The multinational manufacturer aims to maintain the vibrancy of its new start-up purchase by retaining the founders as it brings the products to global markets.

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