Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: sandwich taxes, no-show charges and Christmas dinner costs

All the news, reviews and trends from December 1-2, including the Harvard professor recommending six chips per portion and the cafes ditching cartel-run avocado imports.

3 December 2018
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Food news

The cost of Christmas dinner rises

Good Housekeeping’s annual survey has revealed that Christmas dinner will be more expensive than ever, thanks to a combination of unusually hot weather ruining crops and concerns over Brexit. The cheapest option will set consumers back 6% more than last year – £26.43 at Aldi – with Christmas cake, turkey and Brussels sprouts seeing the biggest price rise, reports the Guardian.


The black bread of the family

Following claims last week that Sainsbury’s ‘well fired’ loaves could be bad for health – an allegation that the supermarket denies – Scotland’s food standards agency has advised people not to eat too many blackened crusts due to the presence of acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen that “forms in starchy food products during high-temperature cooking such as frying, baking, roasting and industrial processing at 120C or more,” according to the Guardian. Food research company FSS by Fera found that 27% of the food samples it examined in Scotland’s supermarkets contained more than the EU recommended amount of acrylamide.


No-show nuisances

The suggestion by the Restaurant Association of Ireland that its members should charge a deposit for Christmas meals in order to avoid losing money due to no-shows has led to an investigation by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The CCPC noted that a trade association should not “attempt to co-ordinate the conduct of its members,” writes the Times. However, the chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association said that deposits would benefit businesses and consumers, since no-shows raise the cost of eating out.


The chips are down

A portion of chips should include no more than six, according to Harvard professor Eric Rimm, who has said that potatoes are one of the least healthy vegetables. Removing the skin and frying them only reduces their benefit even further. His statement was backed up by both nutritionists and a study that found that “participants who ate two to three portions of fried potatoes a week were at a higher risk of mortality compared with those who ate non-fried potatoes,” writes the Times. The average portion of chips today is around 55.

Avocado on the out

A growing number of “trendy cafes” are ditching avocado from menus due to environmental fears, reports the Daily Mail. The air miles required to fly the fruit in as well as stories that criminal cartels are becoming involved in its export are among the reasons establishments like Tincan Coffee in Brighton and Wildflower in London have ditched the fashionable ingredient, replacing it with more sustainable garlic mushrooms and pea guacamole.


Pub problems

The Guardian looks into some of the reasons that the pub trade is suffering, including publicans being tied to a pub company that overcharges for beer, council business rates, beer duty and changing demographics in certain areas. The paper also highlights some ways that pubs have managed to stay open, from community pubs (where local residents pitch in to buy a pub) to gastropubs, which rely on the higher profit margins from food to make up for slim ones on alcohol.


Fortnum & Mason profit from online and overseas

Online sales and success in overseas markets has seen Fortnum & Mason’s profits rise 26%, writes the Times. The retailer made £126m in the last financial year – £9.6m of that profit – boosted by a 55% rise in sales in Hong Kong. On home soil, biscuits and loose-leaf tea were strong performers.


Leon co-founder makes no bones about vegetarianism

Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby believes British society is “at the beginning of a massive sea change” when it comes to eating meat, reports the Times. “Our customers used to make their decision on meat verses vegetarian. Now they are making a decision of a taste of a lentil masala versus a taste of a meat dish, not meat versus vegetable. We are seeing massively increased consumption of vegetarian food,” the businessman told the Country Land and Business Association conference in Westminster.


Sandwiching in a new packaging tax

A new tax on sandwich packaging could be launched within a week. This levy will likely add up to 15p to the cost of a pack and will target not just retailers and producers, but also home delivery services like Amazon. “Sandwich packs are being targeted because they are among the least recyclable products sold by Britain’s supermarkets and high street shops,” notes the Sunday Times. “They employ bonded materials, whereby cardboard is glued to a transparent plastic window, a combination that makes them impossible to recycle.”


Recycling is in the bag Down Under

Australia has seen 1.5bn drop in single-use plastic bags – around 80% – since the country’s two largest retailers decided to ban their usage over the summer, reports the Guardian.


Food trends

King of fruits

Durian has become an incredibly popular ingredient in China, appearing in cakes, ice creams and even pizza, reports the Guardian. In fact, the spiralling demand for the ‘king of fruits’ has seen its price shoot up from 37p per kilo a decade ago to £11, making it a more lucrative item for Malaysian farmers than palm oil or rubber.

All that jazz… at Waitrose

It’s not just restaurants that are using ‘experiences’ to lure in consumers. Retailers are getting in on the act too, with Waitrose in particular offering a raft of options: shoppers can stay overnight, host a dinner party, enjoy a jazz concert or take cookery classes, reports the Telegraph.


Food reviews

Tish, London NW3 2AG

Seared tuna, duck breast and lamb pie with truffle mash sit alongside salt beef sandwiches and chicken coup with lokshen noodles (egg noodles) on the menu here, which is “trying to be all things to all (of these) people,” writes Jay Rayner, in between bites of undercooked, under-sweetened gooseberry strudel and a “nice” chicken schnitzel.

The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh EH7 5HN

“Exciting soup” is a phrase Marina O’Loughlin never thought she’d write, but she does so in honour of the game broth, which “shimmers with layer after layer of flavour, laced like an aristocratic Scotch broth with tiny dice of root vegetables, celeriac, onion and carrot, and mini chunks of duck breast, still rosy pink.” Other gems at this neighbourhood eatery include mackerel ceviche with kohlrabi and cornichons, and a dish of venison loin, neck and haggis – though the critic is severely underwhelmed by the uninspired vegetarian option: hispi cabbage, pine nuts, turnips, artichokes and purple sprouting broccoli.

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