Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: NFU predicts future of food and Sainsbury's makes merger preparations

The news, reviews and trends from February 16-17, including Patisserie Valerie arrests, the convenience stores crisis and making coffee from watermelon seeds.

18 February 2019
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Food news

Sainsbury’s has high hopes for Asda deal

Sainsbury’s has hired consultants to begin the process of merging its systems and staff with those of Asda, according to the Sunday Times. The paper says that the move shows the company is confident it will get approval from the Competition and Markets Authority, which is expected to announce the number of stores the pair will have to sell this week to receive the green light – City analysts expect that figure to be more than 100.

 

Who’s to blame at Patisserie Valerie?

PricewaterhouseCoopers has highlighted six individuals it alleges “signed fraudulent cheques and sent emails discussing fabricating invoices,” reports the Sunday Times. One of these people has already been arrested.

 

The future of food

The National Farmers Union has released a report on what it believes agriculture will look like in the year 2024, writes the Guardian. Fifty people across Britain’s food chain were interviewed for the research, which suggests that vertical farming, 3D-printed food and nano-sensors to constantly analyse soil will all become commonplace. “The Future of Food 2040 report is a catalyst to encourage us all to start the debate about our food and our future so we can plan ahead,” said Andrea Graham, head of policy services at the NFU. “It is also a reminder for government, at a critical time in British history, to make domestic food production a strategic priority in all policy making.”

image credit: University of Essex

Accounting alteration increases Tesco debt

Changes to accounting standards will see Tesco’s net assets dip £1.4bn to £13bn, while its indebtedness will rise by £3.3bn to £15.8bn, though the supermarket has said that there will be no “economic impact” on the company. According to the Times, the introduction of IFRS 16 “affects how leases are accounted for and how assets and liabilities are presented.”

 

Folic acid not necessary in bread

It seems the debate over adding folic acid to bread still isn’t over, as the Sunday Times notes that a forthcoming report by a Department of Health policy group will not endorse fortification. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects and is recommended as a supplement for pregnant women, though doctors have said a more effective way to ensure ingestion is to bolster common foods with folic acid. However, the report counters that young women are eating less bread while Brexit will affect flour imports, leading to questions about the effectiveness of this particular approach.

 

Convenience store crisis

The Financial Times examines the plight of convenience stores, ahead of the reveal today of McColl’s Retail’s annual results. These figures are expected to be weak, following two profit warnings and an 80% share slide over the past 12 months, as corner shop brands face increasing competition from the expansion of supermarket giants into smaller formats that offer a competitive price point.   

 

M&S under the hammer

Entrepreneur Philip Day is said to be eyeing the purchase of around 10 M&S stores to turn into Days Department Stores. Smaller House of Fraser spots are also being considered, according to the Telegraph.

 

Coffee from… spelt grain?

Seattle start-up Atomo has reverse-engineered coffee, creating a brew without the beans. Instead, hulls from sunflower seeds, spelt grain and watermelon seeds are being tested as replacements – and are apparently doing quite well, with 70% of people selecting Atomo’s cup of joe over the Starbucks variety in a blind taste test, writes the Times. The founders say climate change is devastating coffee crops, requiring a rethink in how people get their morning boost.

image credit: Getty Images

Pepsico announces $2.5bn restructuring

Pepsico is looking to cut $2.5bn’s worth of costs by 2023, with 70% of that saving coming from “employee-related” restructuring, according to the Times, which writes that the news seems to be designed to offset a disappointing 2019 financial forecast. Three-fifths of the company’s revenue come from snacks and drinks sold in the US, while rival Coca-Cola makes two-thirds of its sales overseas.

 

American-style breakfast joint in jeopardy

Despite receiving a stay of execution, the Breakfast Club chain still has an axe hovering over its head, according to the Sunday Times, as it attempts to restructure its debts. Santander recently forgave defaults by parent company Catsteps Cafes on a £2.2m loan, but annual accounts filed last week show pre-tax losses of £670,000.

 

Domino’s awards day called off

Amid ongoing clashes with franchisees, Domino’s Pizza has elected not to hold its annual awards day, after almost all shop owners said they would boycott the event, reports the Sunday Times.

 

Umu and the Square were almost liquidated last year

London hotspots Morton’s Club, Umu, the Square and the Greenhouse are just some of the restaurants in Lebanese millionaire Marlon Abela’s restaurant portfolio, which appear to be in “shaky financial health,” according to the Times. The paper notes that filings for parent company Marc Ltd show that it fell into liquidation at the end of last year and was only saved by an injection of personal capital from Abela.

 

Food trends

Jackfruit could become a staple crop for future generations, according to the Guardian, which notes its versatility and ease of growth. In India, its consumption could even help to cut down on the diabetes epidemic.

 

Food reviews

Pensons, Herefordshire WR15 8RT

Keith Miller gets an early review in for former Typing Room chef Lee Westcott’s new endeavour, which exudes “rusticity instilled into elegance.” While he enjoys “darkly fleshy” monk’s beard, lamb “served with a curatorially correct mini-turnip” and venison, his most ecstatic praise is reserved for dessert: sheep’s yogurt with apple and flecks of dill, and chocolate with beetroot.

image credit: Pensons

Host, West Yorkshire LS29 9PA

Food is “mostly terrific” at this Ilkley spot, which stuffs Marina O’Loughlin with the “frilliest, laciest fritters of monkfish with malt vinegar mayonnaise” as well as ‘scrumpets’: “breaded cubes of fatty hogget, tiny things packing an immense, ballsy punch with their vivid mint relish.” Roasted cauliflower also makes an appearance, cooked in Kashmiri-spiced butter and fermented black garlic, while squash is served in smoked cheese custard with almond dukka (Egyptian spice mix).

 

Parker’s Tavern, Cambridge CB2 1AD

Rounding out a refreshingly non-London-centric weekend of reviews is Jay Rayner’s jolly to the University Arms Hotel, where he finds chef Tristan Welch walking “a jagged line through both British chophouse classics and something rather better travelled.” Whole quail is cooked in a tandoori marinade “so good it would get the nod from the Pakistani grill houses down London’s Whitechapel Road,” while skate wing “doesn’t so much slip from the cartilage, as obligingly curl itself around your fork.”

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