Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: paper straw manufacturing revives in UK and the rise of 'cobots'

The news, reviews and trends from June 16-17, including Iceland's cooling profits, Tesco's rising sales and a clampdown on school snacking.

18 June 2018

Food news

Profits cool at Iceland

“Sales are rising at Iceland Foods but higher costs and a market slowdown mean its first-half earnings will be lower than this time last year,” writes the Times. While the retail chain’s overall sales have increased alongside new store openings, there’s been a decrease in like-for-like sales in the year to date. According to Iceland, the chief factors affecting profit have been higher wages, growing distribution costs, a food retail slowdown and volatile consumer spending, though it hopes to recover lost profits in the second half of the year.


Rise of the machines

Robots are benefiting from the nation’s labour shortages, with an increase in sales of ‘cobots’: collaborative robots designed to work alongside humans. Smaller, safer and cheaper than traditional versions, cobots are more commonly seen in car production lines, but are also being used in the Netherlands to tap bottles of spirits and in Japan to box dumplings, as well as in Amazon warehouses. The UK has so far been a bit behind in adopting robots, according to the Times: the International Federation of Robotics estimates that there are about 71 robots per 10,000 workers, compared with 309 in Germany and 132 in France.


The last straw

A new company called Transcend Packaging is poised to become the first paper straw manufacturer in the UK for decades, reports the Guardian. Currently, companies that are switching to paper straws are predominantly importing them for China, according to the article, leading to a sizable carbon footprint. Transcend, which will be based in Wales, already has a contract to supply 1,361 of McDonald’s UK outlets from September – despite the fact it hasn’t yet made its first straw (the business is waiting on machines to be delivered from China).


School’s out for snacking

Schools come in for a bit of finger wagging in the Sunday Times, which has a couple of stories relating to how kids are being simultaneously educated and fattened up. “An advisory group set up by the Scottish government argues that snacks being sold on school premises are ‘undermining’ nutritional standards that apply to school lunches,” writes the paper, which notes that ministers up north want to cut out muffins, cakes and sausage rolls in tuck shops. Meanwhile, at the Fork to Fork food festival, Caravan founder Laura Harper-Hinton remarked that “schools should ban puddings,” saying that it encourages excessive sugar consumption.

Booker-bolstered Tesco reports increased sales

Tesco has reported its 10th consecutive quarter of rising sales, fuelled primarily (at least in the UK and Ireland) by its acquisition of Booker and helped along by the sales of non-core businesses and the improvement of the price and quality of products – especially own brand. “In an upbeat trading statement, Tesco said group like-for-like sales had risen by 1.8% in the first quarter – its highest recorded growth since 2011,” writes the Times. “In the UK and Ireland, like-for-like sales jumped by 3.5 per cent in the 13 weeks to May 26, the biggest growth in nearly a decade.”


Food interviews

Ollie Dabbous, head chef at Hide

“Hide feels like progress, evolution. What we’ve done together here is probably greater than what we could have done individually,” says Ollie Dabbous, in a Telegraph article about London’s most talked-about restaurant. It’s a very coy piece, from Dabbous’ refusal to confess Michelin ambitions to co-owner Yevgeny Chichvarkin’s sidestepping of the million-pound question: how much is his head chef getting paid? The piece also takes note of Hide’s now infamously enormous wine list and the Tim Burton-esque attributes of the eats.


Food reviews

Lina Stores, London W1D 4EH

Are you in the mood for some saucy Italian seduction? Marina O’Loughlin is, at least if she’s dining at Lina Stores. “Beige has never been so beautiful,” she writes, praising the perfect pasta at this Soho joint, from “chewy worms of hand-rolled Tuscan pici dressed in a rich, gooey sauce of Italian sausage and wild mushrooms” to “flat patties of aubergine polpette topped with a slick of intense tomato sauce.” While the restaurant is new, it comes from the same people behind the Lina Stores deli, opened in 1944.

Thomas Carr Seafood and Grill, North Devon EX34 9QB

Mains are better than starters at this crowdfunded establishment, according to Jay Rayner, who tucks into hake in a shellfish bisque accented with lemongrass and ginger – “it’s rare that a soup mounted with ladles of cream also feels invigorating and curiously healthy” – as well as skate with brown butter, capers and crayfish – “one of the best versions of this dish ever laid in front of me.” 

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