The review

Byron burgers left bloodied by Twitter; organic meat sales up; and how firms are surviving with the living wage.

Bloodshed at Byron

It’s been a bad week for Byron Hamburgers. The company has been at the centre of a social media storm after it “trapped” kitchen staff in an immigration sting.

Staff at a dozen outlets were reportedly called to meetings under the pretence of discussing cooking burgers (a hot food safety topic currently). Little did they know, however, that immigration officers lay in wait.

That Byron was in cahoots with Home Office officials didn’t go down well in the Twittersphere. Stats pulled by Visibrain showed that in just 24 hours the hashtag #BoycottByron was used more than 8,000 times. Byron didn’t comment and this only fuelled the public’s ire. When it did finally react, it blamed the Home Office.

Agree or disagree with Byron’s decision to take part in such a sting, the brand’s handling of the situation left a lot to be desired. On the plus side, it’s the perfect case study for other foodservice brands looking at how not to react in a PR crisis, explained Visibrain’s head of communications, Georgina Parsons.

Even though it has since confirmed that it facilitated the raid at the Home Office’s request, Byron had no plan in place. And this is a post-Brexit era when any story relating to immigration can quickly become front-page news.

“Whether they’re embroiled in a national immigration scandal, or simply responding to someone who’s found a fly in their soup, brands need to have a strong presence on Twitter – ready to react to crises, or to simply engage with their fans,” said Parsons in an analysis for Footprint.

Science boosts organic sales

Sales of organic meat jumped 4.1% in the 12 weeks to June 18th 2016. The turnaround is remarkable – in 2015, sales fell by 8.1%.

What’s going on? The Soil Association pointed to research published in February by Newcastle University showing that organic meat contains up to 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic meat.

The meta-analysis, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, received widespread coverage. The Soil Association said it did all it could to publicise the paper.

But some experts questioned the findings and criticised the authors for chasing headlines. It is a moot point. “Common sense doesn’t sell newspapers,” said Tim Clarke, the group marketing and innovation director of Innocent Drinks, at last year’s Food Matters Live conference.

With journals competing for news space, some academics have suggested the editors are being lured by papers that make strident claims rather than those that have null outcomes but are well-designed. It is also a problem that the internet has created a race to get stories published fast and first.

The Newcastle study could well have helped boost sales of organic meat, but demand for local food is also likely to be fuelling demand. The popularity of the Soil Association’s Food for Life catering mark is playing a part too.

Last month, the National Trust committed to the ethical standards scheme at 134 catering outlets across its sites. More than 14,800 approved meals are now served daily at National Trust properties.

Firms evolve with NLW

Data collected from 4,000 hospitality businesses shows that the average pay of a hospitality worker over the age of 25 as of June 2016 was £7.47 – 27p higher than the government’s “national living wage”.

Actual pay could rise “as high as £9.45 in 2020”, said Mike Shipley, the analytics and insight solutions director of Fourth, which published the research. A recent survey by CGA Peach found that 65% of CEOs think the 2020 living wage target of £9 an hour is unrealistic.

With chef shortages, increasing wage competition from retailers, uncertainty stemming from Brexit and increases to living wages for under-24s, it’s “imperative operators look at ways to improve their efficiency”, said Shipley.

Many already are. A Resolution Foundation survey of 500 businesses found that of those firms affected by the national living wage, the most popular short-term action taken had been to increase prices (36%), followed by taking lower profits (29%).

Conversely, only 14% of firms whose wage bill had increased said they had used fewer workers, offered fewer hours to staff or slowed recruitment.

Just one in 12 (8%) said they had reduced aspects of the reward package, such as paid breaks, overtime or bank holiday pay. Perhaps many have thought better of it given the fallout from Caffè Nero’s decision to cut free lunches for staff.

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