Week on a Plate

The week digested: the polarisation of retail and cell-cultured wagyu

Catch up on the food news from December 10-14, including McDonald’s new rules on beef supply and Ocado’s 2019 outlook.

14 December 2018
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Retailers wish for Christmas cheer

Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have pinned their hopes on last-minute Christmas shopping to boost their profits, following a slump in shopper visits in recent weeks, according to the Standard. Three of the four biggest grocers lost market share to rivals as they entered the crucial trading period, according to Kantar’s latest industry figures: Tesco dipped to 27.6% in the 12 weeks to December 2 from 28.2% the year before; Sainsbury’s fell from 16.4% to 16%; Morrisons edged down from 10.6% to 10.5%, while Asda’s market share was flat.

 

The allergen bug

Thousands of people are developing life-threatening reactions to animal products – and a single tiny creature is to blame, according to the Guardian. A bite from a tick can trigger a condition known as “alpha-gal allergy,” named after the component of meat that triggers it. This emerging illness is making scientists question how allergies actually occur as the cases are being diagnosed in adults, rather than developing in childhood.

 

New direction at M&S

Marks & Spencer has brought in grocery industry heavyweight Justin King to help right the ship. The new non-executive director is celebrated for his turnaround of Sainsbury’s, with analysts suggesting his experience could increase scrutiny of the management team.

 

Pinterest publishes search stats

Pinterest has declared its top health trends for 2019, which include self-care and an eco-conscious mindset. On the food front, elderberries may be a good bet, as the site has seen searches for recipes using the fruit rise by 685% in the past year. Ginger oil had a similar bump. Nutrition plans are also front of mind for users of the site, along with sober living, with searches for matcha and maca up by 144%.

image credit: Getty Images

Ocado mulls new distribution centre

Ocado has had a “transformative year,” in the words of CEO Tim Steiner, as the online grocer sealed major deals to supply its automated technology to retailers in Canada, France and Sweden, as well as US supermarket giant Kroger. The company plans to continue to seek out new partnerships next year, while also seeking to invest in a fifth distribution centre to support its growing grocery sales, says its CFO. Retail revenue has risen by 12% in the past three months, while average orders per week were up to 320,000.

 

McDonald’s bins antibiotic beef

McDonald’s has announced plans to reduce the use of antibiotics in its global beef supply, reports the Guardian. It will measure the use of antibiotics in its 10 biggest markets, covering 85% of its global beef supply chain, including the United States, and set targets to curb usage by the end of 2020. The fast-food chain does not expect the policy to raise hamburger prices, although franchisees set their own menu prices.

 

Report on Asda-Sainsbury’s merger delayed

An initial report into the Sainsbury's and Asda merger from the Competition and Markets Authority will not be delivered until early February, despite being expected next month. This is apparently unrelated, however, to the legal challenge launched by Britain’s second and third largest retailers for an 11-day extension that would allow them to respond to concerns raised by competitors, suppliers and trade bodies.

 

Fast-food chains better for consumers than full-service restaurants

Eating at a McDonald’s or Burger King may entail less calories than dining at a Harvester or Nando’s, according to research by the BMJ. The average dish on a fast-food menu was found to contain 751 calories, compared to 1,033 at high-street restaurants. Hungry Horse and Stone House served up the most calories in their main meals at 1,358 and 1,275 respectively, while KFC topped the fast-food chains measured with 987.

Nando's sharing platter
image credit: Nando's

Polarised retail means Aldi and Harrods come out on top

The UK retail market this year has proved almost as polarised as parliament. Analysts have noted that the mid-market has suffered the most, while those on the discounter end (Aldi, Lidl) and those on the luxury end (Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols) have performed relatively well. This is partly attributed to the former branching into premium lines (still at affordable prices), while the latter offer consumers a more experiential affair.

 

Options may shrink at pizza favourite

Franco Manca has warned its pizza menus could get even smaller if Brexit causes delays to imported ingredients and has admitted to stockpiling tinned tomatoes from Italy. With sales rising by 20% in the six months to September, the pizza chain attributed this to new openings and the popularity of vegan and gluten-free menu options.

 

Festive spirit at Morrisons

To fight food waste, Morrisons will be selling a £1 box of fruit, veg and salad that are nearing the end of their shelf life. This will not include chilled produce like berries or pre-prepared veg. The news comes as shoppers tuck into Morrisons’ three-course Christmas dinner pasty. Chefs tweaked the product over three months, resulting in a starter of Ardennes pate, sweet apple chutney and Melba toast, followed by a main course of British turkey with sage and onion stuffing, potato, pigs in blankets, cranberries and a creamy sauce. To finish: a traditional Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

image credit: Morrisons

Food waste buckets

Speaking of food waste, the UK government is hoping to get millions more homes to put scraps, leftovers, peelings and food that have gone off into a bucket, as part of a new sustainability strategy. This food waste bin would be picked up weekly, with the contents being used for energy and fertiliser. At the same time, general waste collection would be reduced to fortnightly or monthly. The move is being mulled amidst reports that recycling rates are going backwards, forcing councils to incinerate waste to save money.

 

Making supermarkets more accessible for the disabled

Accessible toilets, a selection of lower tills, using large text and Braille, audio induction loops, consistent lighting and staff education are among the ways retailers can do more to make shops accessible to the disabled, according to experience design agency Sigma.

 

Parody Twitter accounts no laughing matter

The operators of two parody Twitter accounts that impersonated pub chain Wetherspoon will be unmasked, after the High Court ordered the social media operator to reveal who is behind them. The accounts have fooled people and resulted in heated exchanges at the pub chains’ AGMs, with the problem further exacerbated by Wetherspoon deleting its official Twitter account in April.

 

The new diet: gene editing

For those who can't resist a sweet treat, scientists are working on a way to edit their genes to control their appetite, though clinical trials on humans are years away. The technique has been tested in mice and targeted the animals that were predisposed to obesity, resulting in them remaining slim. 

 

Cell-cultured wagyu

Food innovation company Just has announced it is developing a cell-cultured version of wagyu beef. In partnership with the cow-rearing Toriyama family and meat and seafood supplier Awano Food Group, Just hopes to bring the prestigious meat to more diners while simultaneously reducing the environmental cost.

 

Supersized pigs (in blankets)

Pigs in blankets have returned in a big way this Christmas, but none more so than M&S’s supersized versions, which are a foot long. These beasts come in packs of two and retail for £5.

 

Pizza and small plates

A new restaurant has opened in London combining pizzas and Mediterranean small plates influenced by food from Italy, Turkey and Lebanon. Pucci Mayfair is headed up by Tilly Turbett, formerly of Ramsay Group in London and Noma in Denmark.

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