Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: Waitrose chucks 5p plastic bags and UK readies for Tesco's discount store

The news, reviews and trends from September 15-16, including how food could revitalise market town centres and The Restaurant Group's potential pub chain purchase.

17 September 2018
Brexitplasticrestaurant openingsupermarkets

Food news

Could halloumi fries save town centres?

Food could revitalise ailing market towns, according to an article in the Guardian, which highlights the success of Altrincham’s “gastro-regeneration project.” Tapping into foodie trends, including halloumi fries and Lebanese wraps, the addition of a food hall that “undeniably appeals to bourgeois tastes” has helped bring down the vacancy rate in Altrincham town centre from 25% to 10%, with the market now turning over £5m a year.


Muffin top

Coffee shop muffins are contributing to Britain’s obesity problem, according to Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England. “So often it’s 'would you like a coffee muffin with that, madam' and if the muffin’s got a lovely name that implies it’s healthy you don’t think about it in the same way you necessarily think about a burger,” said Tedstone, who added that opting for a muffin with a coffee order adds 400 calories thanks to the high sugar content. The Telegraph's article included a diagram of the UK's obesity hotspots. Earlier last week, the UK was named and shamed by the World Health Organisation for being among the top five nations for cancers linked to obesity.

image credit: Plateresca/Getty Images Plus

Just Jack’s

Can Tesco’s bid to unsettle the German discounters with its chain of Jack’s stores succeed? The Observer digs into the launch of the new brand, which will debut on Wednesday in Chatteris, Cheshire, noting that both Sainsbury’s and Asda have tried similar ploys – and shuttered them. “Being a discounter is about turning efficiency into scale and the lowest possible prices and highest possible quality for shoppers,” said Bryan Roberts, an analyst at TCC Global. “You can’t play at being a discounter. If you try and do it alongside the main brand and there’s overlap, shoppers will notice.” In related news, the Times has said Tesco will convert 60 of its existing stores into Jack’s while closing another 30, potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk, though Tesco disputes the numbers.


Corn starch replaces plastic

Waitrose & Partner’s 5p plastic bags will be a thing of the past by spring 2019, as the retailer has announced it will be replacing them – as well as the ones for loose fruit and veg – with a compostable alternative derived from corn starch. The move will mean a reduction of 134m plastic bags – or 500 tonnes of plastic a year – reports the Guardian. However, “compostable, bio-based bags aren’t necessarily the gold-star solution they first appear,” said Emma Priestland, a plastics campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “This is a case of swapping one kind of single-use plastic for another, when actually removing the packaging entirely would be the best option.”


A piece of the Peach

The Restaurant Group could be about to snap up another pub chain, according to the Sunday Times, which reports that Peach Pubs is seeking a buyer for its 20-strong portfolio. Just last month, The Restaurant Group spent £15m to buy up the Food and Fuel pub group. Peach Pubs is valued at £20m.


Braced for revolt

Unilever’s third-largest shareholder is considering whether to vote against the multinational’s plans to abolish its dual-governance structure, reports the Times. Lindsell Train’s co-founder Nick Train said that Unilever should offer a “perpetuity guarantee” to protect British shareholders from any potential fallout from the consolidation of the two Unilever holding companies into one based in Rotterdam, which could include being exposed to a 15% Dutch withholding tax. Concerns have also been raised that the plans will mean “roughly $200bn of tracker funds that follow the FTSE indices would have to sell their shares,” writes the Times, as a Netherlands-incorporated company would not qualify for the FTSE 100.


Taco break

A Mexican food chain based in Ireland is eyeing expansion into the rest of the UK, according to the Times. Boojum’s has gone from five to 17 outlets over the past three years, successfully peddling burritos in Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

image credit: SharafMaksumov/Getty Images Plus

Aldi and Lidl unfairly hampered

As Lidl’s plans to open a store in Tuam, County Galway, are approved in the face of opposition from a group representing local retailers, the UK boss of Aldi has complained that the German discounters are being unfairly targeted by rivals in Ireland. “In recent years our efforts to develop stores and create new jobs in towns and cities across Ireland have faced resistance,” said Giles Hurley, chief executive of Aldi UK and Ireland. “Some objections are for genuine reasons, but unfortunately other objections are part of a strategy to delay our store opening programme.” Aldi has submitted 37 new store-planning applications over the past four years, according to the Sunday Times, with 29 of them receiving objections from Tesco, SuperValu or RGdata.


Co-op profits are on the up

The Co-operative Group’s pre-tax profits have risen 86% in the first half of the year and food has played a large part, writes the Times. Like-for-like sales grew 4.4% at the company’s convenience stores, helped along by the World Cup, the hot summer and the purchase of wholesaler Nisa.


Britain after Brexit

The Observer sums up concerns about how leaving the EU could affect British food in a wide-ranging article that covers everything from issues with food quality (e.g., chlorinated chicken), to taxes on exports and imports between the UK and Europe, to labour shortages.


Food trends

Milking it

The Guardian takes a look at the different milk alternatives to see which ones are actually better for the environment – and nutritionally beneficial – compared to traditional dairy. Using Australian farmland as a test ground, the article examines soy, almond, oat, rice, coconut and even camel, before concluding that the answer is just to keep consumption habits diverse and purchase from areas where farming is done sensibly and sustainably.


Vinegar in vogue

The Telegraph gets wise to the vinegar trend with a piece that highlight a handful of places that are tarting up menus, including Scully, The Picklery and Carters of Moseley.


Food reviews

Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles, London E1 7AL

The noodle restaurant that everyone in London has been talking about gets Jay Rayner’s seal of approval. Taking its cue from Xi’an, the Chinese city where the Silk Road once started, the restaurant’s beef in chilli oil is “luscious and compelling,” while the signature ribbon noodles “are absurdly satisfying: broad, slightly misshapen, slicked in fragrant oils and flakes of chilli. They are the very definition of joyous slurp.”

image credit: Xi'an Biang Biang Noodles

Jamie’s Italian Westfield Stratford City, London E20 1EN

On a less positive note this weekend, the menu here makes Marina O’Loughlin “want to swear and kick something. Possibly Jamie Oliver.” The halo of the Naked Chef name only enhances the disappointment of the menu, which fails to be either traditional or innovative with its Italian offering. 

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