FOOTPRINT TRENDS: a foodservice review for the new year

In the first of Footprint’s ‘Trends 2019’ series, Nick Hughes rounds up the year just gone and forecasts the key issues of 2019.  

Looking back on 2018

The biggest issue was …

Plastic. From the day in December 2017 when the episode of “Blue Planet” aired showing the blight on our oceans caused by plastic waste, it was clear the issue would dominate the sustainability agenda in 2018. A torrent of pledges, partnerships and policy proposals have followed aimed at reducing the industry’s use of plastic and incentivising recycling. Yet business commitments, while always well intentioned, have sometimes tended towards the knee-jerk and a focus for 2019 must surely be on ensuring that the UK’s waste and recycling infrastructure can support the low-plastic economy that campaigners demand.

The biggest trend was …

Veganism. Or perhaps more accurately plant-based eating. Because while the number of vegans has undeniably surged (2018’s Veganuary smashed all previous records), the most significant consumer shift from an industry perspective has been the growing number of flexitarians who are actively looking to reduce their meat consumption for a mixture of health and environmental reasons.  The market responded with contract caterers rebalancing meals to put plants at the centre; high-street chains putting more vegan options on to menus; and retailers launching innovative plant-based ranges. Expect more of the same in 2019.

The emerging issue was …

Palm oil. The link between palm oil production and the destruction of natural habitats has long been a focus for environmental campaigns, but it took an audacious commitment and a controversial advert to bring the issue firmly into the public consciousness. Iceland’s decision in April to ban palm oil in its own-label products started a conversation about the commodity, before its compelling orang-utan ad, first run by Greenpeace over the summer, cemented palm oil’s status as a key sustainability battleground. That the ad was immediately banned by the industry watchdog has only served to enhance Iceland’s dissident status (it has also promised to go plastic-free on its own-brand products). The conversation must now turn to whether a blanket ban is the right way to tackle a critical issue.

Looking forward to 2019

The biggest issue will be …

Brexit. Despite it being a hugely unwelcome distraction for many businesses there’s no escaping the fact that Brexit will inform almost every business decision made in 2019. The precise nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU come 30th March will have far-reaching consequences: from the risk of EU labour – so critical to the food and hospitality sectors – being in short supply, to potential volatility in the cost of importing fresh produce, and the risk to safety and integrity of certain checks and controls being relaxed to ensure a free flow of goods. Progressive businesses will see economic uncertainty as an incentive to drive new efficiencies in areas such as waste, water and energy use. The less enlightened, on the other hand, may use Brexit as an excuse to push sustainability to the bottom of the agenda.

The biggest trend will be …

Eating in. The transformative effect of the likes of Just Eat and Deliveroo on the foodservice sector will be felt even more acutely in 2019. One in five millennials say they now eat out less at restaurants due to food delivery, according to Planday, shifting £1 billion annually away from in-restaurant dining. Faced with this existential threat to their business model, high-street chains are adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality and listing themselves on the same platforms they are competing against. The platforms themselves, meanwhile, are beginning to use their influence to drive good practice among a previously hard-to-reach group of small business owners (see Just Eat’s recent decision to include the official Food Hygiene Rating of each of its UK restaurant partners directly on its platform). But with greater power comes greater scrutiny and questions over workers’ rights and food labelling and hygiene policies are only set to intensify as their public profile grows.

The emerging issue will be …

Revealed over the course of the year but one early candidate is fish welfare, which is the focus of a new campaign from Compassion in World Farming. Textile waste is another issue with the potential to blow up in 2019. To date the hospitality sector has been shielded from criticism over the UK’s disposable clothing culture by the fashion sector, which takes the lion’s share of the rap. But the industry’s use of textiles is significant and whispers that suppliers are struggling to find a route to recycling for linen and workwear could enter the public realm at any moment. Frankly, it’s about time the conversation was had.

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