Friday digest: staff and decent food polices are in short supply

This week’s news rundown has so many alarm bells and wake up calls you might be tempted to take a duvet day.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss continue to tussle for the keys to Number 10 but little time has been spent debating climate change, according to reports by Ends and Edie. The latter was “alarmed” (but probably not surprised) to see protection of the planet sliding down the Conservative Party’s list of priorities. Sunak reportedly doesn’t like windfarms while Truss has long had it in for solar farms. Do either of them like farms that produce food?

clear vision for food policy remains elusive, warned Neil Ward, professor at the school of environmental sciences, University of East Anglia, this week.“As reductions in emissions from transport and electricity generation progress, so the agri-food system is going to loom larger as a problem hampering the UK reaching net-zero,” he wrotein a blog for Green Alliance.

Ward wasn’t the only academic worrying about government food policy this week, either. The new food strategy for England “fails to acknowledge the scale of the challenge we are facing: an existential crisis in climate change and an intractable problem with food-related non-communicable diseases”, wrote five experts in a piece for the journal Nature. They praised the rhetorical commitment made in the strategy (to support a resilient, healthier and more sustainable food system that is affordable to all) but found little else to celebrate in there. The strategy “lacks a joined-up (systems-based) approach and fails to address the scale of the problems with the urgency required”, they wrote; it also pays “only lip service to [Henry] Dimbleby’s systemic analysis”. 

The absence of the proposed tax on sugar and salt (recommendation number one in Dimbleby’s review), meanwhile, “signals both a lack of engagement with the evidence and a lack of ambition with regard to achieving their goals”. Ditto the failure to set a clear target to reduce meat consumption.

The strategy is also being scrutinised by MPs on the Efra committee as part of a new inquiry into food security. The committee will look at the ongoing pressures from the pandemic, new ones emerging from the war in Ukraine and the outlook for food inflation. ““There are few things more important than the food we eat,” said Efra chair Sir Robert Goodwill.

The inquiry will undoubtedly produce some deeper reflections and analysis. The resulting report and recommendations will also certainly be ignored by government for a few months before a lacklustre response emerges amounting to little more than: it’s up to the market, innit?

IGD has said the UK food-to-go market is recovering faster than expected following the pandemic. Businesses have benefitted form pent-up demand and innovative new working models. Good news. Not-so-good is the forecast that volumes will stay the same next year as “the true impact of rising prices really kicks in” towards the end of this year and into 2023.

Prices continue to climb. Main courses on branded restaurant menus increased 10.1% between February and June, according to Lumina Intelligence. The average was £12.69 in June. This was way ahead of the rises seen for dishes in pubs and bars (2.3%), QSRs (3.6%) and coffee and sandwich shops (2.3%). After stripping back on choices during the pandemic, menus have begun to grow. “[…] it is likely to be a slow process, as the industry continues to face into staff shortages and the cost of living crisis,” said Lumina’s Katie Prowse.

The latest vacancy data published by the Office for National Statistics shows there were 176,000 vacancies in the accommodation and foodservice sector during the second quarter of 2022. That was 10,000 more than the first quarter and 69,000 more than the same period in 2021.

Research by UKHospitality and Christie & Co, meanwhile, showed that operating costs have increased to 55.2% of turnover before rent – the highest levels since 2007. Regulatory barriers must be removed, said UKH chief executive Kate Nicholls.

The benchmarking report showed 29% of businesses had managed to fully absorb the energy price increases they’d faced in 2021. A “more dramatic” impact is expected this year as firms report utility cost rises of 100%.

The cheapest electricity if of course the electricity you don’t use. Foodservice and hospitality firms faced with rising costs are therefore being urged to reduce their “invisible waste” – a term coined by Brita UK in a new report showing the cash chucked away by leaving equipment on overnight. Simon Heppner from Net Zero Now said “improving energy efficiency and reducing consumption overall is the only way to safeguard against wild price swings seen recently in the market”.

The Zero Carbon Forum has also launched a ‘Save while you sleep’ initiative to help hospitality businesses reduce costs, recover lost profits and cut carbon overnight. Trials involving the likes of Burger King, McMullens and TGI Fridays have cut costs and carbon by £6,000 and eight tonnes respectively per outlet. That’s certainly worth getting out of bed for.

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