Annual review 2016

From the Brexit vote to Jamie’s sugar tax jig it’s been a topsy-turvy year.

January 

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À la poubelle. Upmarket restaurants start to ditch à la carte menus in an effort to cut back food waste. Figures released from WRAP’s Hospitality and Foodservice Agreement on waste show the sector edged towards a 5% waste prevention target but was some way off the 70% recycling target.

Silo-stopper. The environment secretary, Liz Truss, says DEFRA will be “reshaped” and “modernised”. Not before time, cynics suggest, followed by “what exactly do you mean?”

Sugar tax a sweet idea. Rates of obesity can be slashed if the sugar in soft drinks is cut by 40%, according to a study published in the Lancet.

February

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Forgetting about food. The UN Environment Programme claims food has been an afterthought for the hospitality sector’s work on sustainability. Businesses have sought to save energy, for example, but their food-related impacts “appear not to have had the profile they deserve”.

Poor connectivity. Consumers crave convenience but they’re worried that they’re losing touch with food as a result, according to an extensive report on the future of food by the Food Standards Agency.

Food plan. DEFRA’s five-year plan to 2020 keeps farmers happy, but there is no mention of either waste or sustainable diets. There is a guarantee that all central government departments purchase food to British standards of production. Fine words.

Organic growth. The organic catering sector grew by 15.2% in 2015, according to stats released by the Soil Association. Sales of Catering Mark products rocketed by 28.5% to £9m.

March 

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Jamie Oliver’s jig. The celebrity chef (rather serendipitously) finds himself in Westminster as the chancellor, George Osborne, announces a tax on sugary drinks in his March budget. He is happy. The Food and Drink Federation’s boss, meanwhile, is not. It’s a “piece of political theatre”, says Ian Wright of the new levy.

Waste deal. The Courtauld Commitment and the Hospitality and Foodservice Agreement on waste are merged to form Courtauld 2025 – a plan to cut the resource intensity of the food industry by a fifth within 10 years.

Criminal lack of activity. The Food Standards Agency publishes its first ever assessment of food crime in the UK. The conclusion: the industry isn’t doing enough to help the National Food Crime Unit do its job.

Good guide but ... The Eatwell Guide replaces the Eatwell Plate, which has a 32% lower environmental footprint than the current national diet. Globally, if people followed dietary guidelines (which they don’t), 5.1m deaths could be avoided by 2050, while greenhouse gas emissions would fall by 29%.

April

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Cup controversy. Celebrity chef turned waste campaigner Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall targets the coffee-shop chains and their trumped-up claims over “environmentally friendly” cups – only one in 400 of which are recycled. The resource minister Rory Stewart annoys his team at DEFRA HQ by suggesting a tax might be in order.

Sore point. Hospital admissions for serious reactions to food have shot
up almost 75% in the past years, according to Trace One. The growing complexity of processed foods has increased the potential for unlabelled allergens to be introduced, either by accident or as a result of food fraud, the consultancy suggests.

Reason for cheer. Oxfam throws a curveball when it says “significant improvements” are being made by food brands to improve their ethical and environmental policies. Unilever and Nestlé topped the table, while Danone and Associated British Foods propped it up.

British is best. 55% of consumers want to buy British whenever they can but 45% feel it’s more expensive than imported goods and only a third are happy to pay the premium, according to Mintel. And that was before they voted to leave the EU.

May

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Scores on the doors. Councils want all food outlets in England to be forced to display their hygiene rating. They aren’t alone. In fact, it’s only the government that doesn’t see it as a good idea.

Scientific progress. Compass, Sodexo and Unilever are among 150 or so companies that have set science-based emissions reductions targets. The government on the other hand continues to rip up as many green initiatives as it can lay its hands on.

Turning a blind eye. Only four countries in the world currently include sustainability in their food-based dietary guidelines, according to research by the UN and the Food Climate Research Network.

Ethical tipping point. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills unveils new plans to end unfair tipping practices. But why not just offer staff a decent basic wage instead?

June

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Leaving EU. The UK public vote for Brexit, triggering David Cameron’s resignation as prime minister. Boris Johnson does a runner and Theresa May, almost by default, becomes the new resident of Number 10. She tries to put the country and the continent’s minds at ease: “Brexit means Brexit.” Regretful leavers may have been heard saying: “Why didn’t you say that before we voted?”

University challenge. Food waste is a sustainability priority, finds new research by The University Caterers Organisation and Footprint, but front-of- house and student engagement are a major challenge. Almost three in four (74%) managers want food waste laws.

Less meat, more money. Businesses that provide a greater range of sustainable menu choices can expect to enhance their brand reputation, win new customers and improve staff motivation and retention, according to a report by Sodexo UK & Ireland, WWF-UK and the Food Ethics Council.

Death by chocolate. Greater portion size control, more reformulation and marketing restrictions on junk food would help prevent 250,000 premature deaths by 2025, say health campaigners.

July

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Soy story. Many foodservice firms are hiding from their responsibility to source sustainable soy, according to a WWF scorecard. Elior and Pret A Manger scored zero, for instance, while Compass, Nando’s and Sodexo managed a few points but are far behind their retail counterparts.

Pesticide approval. Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, is either “probably” or “unlikely” to be carcinogenic to humans. Despite the doubt (between the World Health Organisation and European Food Safety Authority respectively) the European Commission extends the chemical’s licence, but only for another 18 months so more research can be done.

Mission possible. Impossible Foods launches a meat-free burger that bleeds. Reaction to the new food is mixed.

Politics and paper cups. More than 45 companies, including fast-food chains and contract caterers, launch a manifesto to increase the collection and recycling of paper cups. Critics have a point when they say the collaboration is light on detail.

August

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Call that a plan? The government’s long-awaited Childhood Obesity Plan is published. It pleases no one. Campaigners say it is weak with pointless targets, while food manufacturers say the targets are not workable and retailers feel it isn’t tough enough. The foodservice and hospitality sector, meanwhile, makes no comment at all.

Taxing issue. Accountants and other enablers of tax avoidance could have to pay considerable fines under new plans proposed by HMRC.

Antibiotic use. The Food Standards Agency vows to tackle the use of antibiotics in livestock farming after new research found growing levels of resistant E coli bacteria in supermarket meat. FSA research also shows that consumers believe food businesses should go beyond mandatory targets for reducing the incidence of campylobacter in chickens.

Cage-free flying. A flurry of retailer commitments to source cage-free eggs represents a seismic shift for the sector and puts pressure on foodservice operators to follow suit, according to Compassion in World Farming. Sodexo and Compass are among those to make commitments.

September

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Brexit balancing act. The British Hospitality Association chief executive, Ufi Ibrahim, tells the Daily Mail that any clampdown on immigration after Brexit risks pushing foodservice and hospitality businesses “off a cliff edge”.

Poor palm show. McDonald’s and Sodexo are “carrying” the sector when it comes to sourcing sustainable palm oil, says WWF.

Fat stats. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows young children are consuming almost three times more sugar (13% of their food energy) than the recommended daily maximum (5%). The government announces that it will develop “clearer visual labelling” to show the sugar content in food.

October

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Sales go swimmingly. UK shoppers spent £509.6m on seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council in 2015-16, up 27% on the previous year. UK consumers are “some of the most ethically minded”, says MSC.

Innovative idea. A new government-backed Food Innovation Network will provide industry with access to first-class facilities, such as test kitchens and laboratories to help businesses launch new products.

Hard to stomach. Families after unhealthy options, “dodgy” ingredients and no idea where the food comes from should look no further than the UK’s top visitor attractions, according to the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch league table. And consider: what’s on offer at the top-performing sites is £1 less expensive than the bottom.

Brexit price battle. Tesco and its supplier Unilever go to war after the latter imposed a 10% price rise for products including Marmite. Cue copious analogies linking the yeast extract people love to hate with the country’s EU opinion split.

November

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Carbon tax. Plonking levies of 40% on beef and 21% on milk could go a long way to meeting carbon emissions targets. Researchers at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food said higher prices on high-carbon foods could cut consumption and by turn emissions.

Sick of soft drinks. The NHS consults on imposing a tax on sugary soft drinks sold in hospitals or banning them altogether. Channels 4’s “Dispatches”, meanwhile, reveals what the obesity strategy looked like before Theresa May dismantled it.

Fall budget failure. Growth predictions are cut and deficit targets revised in Philip Hammond’s autumn statement, his first as chancellor. The “national living wage” will increase in April 2017, but only to £7.50, rather than the £7.60 the Office for Budget Responsibility recommended.

How Roux’d. The Guardian reveals that staff at Michel Roux Jr’s Mayfair restaurant are paid less than workers at McDonald’s. In fact, they receive less than the legal minimum, which could lead to investigation by HMRC. The issue is “endemic” in the sector, suggest experts.

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