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Fri 12th Apr 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Digital dangers, update on Scotland’s MUP and sector deal for tourism remains essential
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase and Brigid Simmonds

Digital dangers by Glynn Davis

When Marco Pierre White published his iconic book White Heat in 1990 featuring celebrated black-and-white reportage photographs of Bob Carlos Clarke he changed the face of cooking in professional kitchens.

The book’s powerful imagery turned what had been thought of as a no-hope job at the dog-end of the occupation food chain into one that was exciting and sexy with a hint of danger. As well as attracting a swathe of youngsters into the UK’s kitchens, the book undoubtedly led a number of celebrated chefs to emerge bleary eyed from their boiling hot kitchens into the cooler environment of the media world to produce television programmes and glossy cookbooks.

This arguably created the modern era of celebrity chefs. The more exposure the likes of Keith Floyd, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and many others got on TV the more the public seemed to hunger for cookery-based programmes. Many of those chefs duly hung up their whites and focused solely on their media careers, with television and book deals proving infinitely more tasty and financially beneficial than slogging away in a restaurant earning chips.

In the US, bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain followed that self-same route and became an acclaimed writer and TV star through his food tourist-style programmes. Although less well-known in the UK, chef Mario Batali was massive in the US, where he became a TV star while keeping his hand in on the cooking side through part-ownership of various restaurants.

Batali’s is an interesting tale of the risks of being a celebrity chef who is linked closely to a business. The upside was clearly that the enormous exposure he gained fuelled growth at the various restaurants he was involved with. However, when he was accused of sexual harassment and the assault of several women, reservations at his flagship New York establishments Del Posto and Babbo declined dramatically. The publicity also killed off several other restaurants he ran with his business partners. They recently bought out his stake to stem the flow of decline.

It’s a similar story in the UK regarding celebrity chef Dan Doherty, who has appeared on various food shows including as a judge on BBC’s Britain’s Best Home Cook while heading up the kitchen at the recently opened Royal Oak restaurant in Marylebone. Accusations of sexual harassment led to his downfall from both roles, while the restaurant lost its star man and had to start afresh.

Such scenarios highlight the risks involved when celebrity chefs and their personas are linked to business interests. Such risks have heightened further as celebrities of all types become more exulted in the cult of social media and, while social media stars can drive large sales, their positions can be ephemeral.

Consider the biggest fish in the social media celebrity pond – Kylie Jenner. She recently became the youngest self-made billionaire at a mere 21 years of age. The company she formed, Kylie Cosmetics, made sales of about $350m last year on lipstick and other beauty products and operates as the most asset-light business imaginable – there are only seven full-time employees and all manufacturing, logistics and sales are outsourced.

What Jenner contributes to this business is pretty much everything because what the organisation stands for is simply her personality – as portrayed on social media. All she has to contribute is a few posts now and again to promote her products. For her recent sell-out lip-gloss range she posted 21 “stories”, consisting of 15-second videos, on Instagram. Job done.

As easy as this appears there are clearly risks because the products – and the business – are so intertwined with Jenner. If she goes off the rails, so does Kylie Cosmetics. In reality the risks might be even greater to the business than we think because Jenner has suggested the whole thing will come to an end potentially sooner than people expect. She has hinted the only reason she keeps the whole social media thing going is for her cosmetics range. Clearly boredom is setting in for the billionaire princess.

For those businesses in the hospitality industry aligned with celebrities and TV chefs this extreme case shows care must be taken because in today’s ultra-transparent digital world, we don’t necessarily know where future disruptive dangers might lie.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Update on Scotland’s MUP by Paul Chase

Bad ideas proliferate like viruses. Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) at 50p per unit was introduced in Scotland last May after a long legal battle with the Scotch Whisky Association and others. The Welsh Assembly government is set to introduce it later this year, probably in the summer, without waiting for the three-year evaluation of its effectiveness in Scotland.

Statistics published by market research company IRI and Aston Manor Cider covering the first six months of MUP in Scotland don’t bode well for its supporters. The headline figures, which compare 29 April to 13 October 2018 with the same period the year before, are:

– Value of alcohol sales has increased 10.5%

– Volume of alcohol sales in litres has increased 3.8%

– Number of “units of alcohol” purchased (8 grams or 10ml of ethyl alcohol = one unit) has increased by 16.8 million units

It’s worth remembering that predictions made by researchers at Sheffield University, whose modelling underpins political support for this policy, predicted MUP would cut unit consumption per head by 3.5% and by 7% for harmful drinkers. Instead, consumption has gone up, not down. The only argument MUP’s supporters make in response is that while sales and consumption may have risen in Scotland, they’re not rising as much as in England where we don’t have MUP. But then, consumption in Scotland was at a higher level to start with. In my view, if the only way you can score goals is by moving the goalposts, you’re in the wrong game!

A major change in regulation such as this creates new winners and losers. The big loser is cheap white cider, with sales falling off a cliff, but the big winner has been flavoured vodka and the notorious Buckfast as consumers trade up to what they perceive as higher-value products as opposed to just buying less. The other big loser is own-label products – sales of these have collapsed in every category or been withdrawn as they now have no place in the pricing hierarchies of different drinks categories. Many of these were lower-strength products bought by low-income consumers, which demonstrates the regressive nature of this pricing reform. It was always about pricing alcohol out of reach of the poor, even though the locus of alcohol abuse is among the moneyed middle classes.

MUP supporters claim the forecast for its success has been stymied by a good summer and Scottish drinkers keen to cheer on England in the World Cup! The claim MUP would tip people out of the living room and into the taproom of the local pub is also wrong. In the short-term, supermarkets have lost volume sales and convenience stores have picked them up as the price differential narrows. I don’t expect to see this continue because supermarkets will find a way to fight back.

This is the context in which the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) passed a motion at its recent conference calling for the introduction of MUP in England. Motion 7 reads: “This conference instructs the national executive to campaign for the urgent introduction of minimum unit pricing for England.” It is something of historical irony that this year’s CAMRA conference was held in Dundee, where Winston Churchill was unseated as MP in 1923 by Edwin Scrymgeour, a member of the Scottish Prohibition Party and the only person ever elected to the UK Parliament on a prohibitionist ticket. If CAMRA believes supporting MUP will appease the temperance lobby and, if we concede it, they’ll leave us alone, they would do well to remember Churchill’s definition of an appeaser: “An appeaser is a man who believes if he feeds a crocodile it will eat him last.”

The political fight to introduce MUP has meant its symbolic significance far outweighs any practical effect on problem drinking. But that neatly sums up what modern-day temperance is all about – it’s a symbolic crusade and supporters don’t care what damage they do to our sector or the millions of people it employs.
Paul Chase is director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy

Sector deal for tourism remains essential by Brigid Simmonds

Last week was English Tourism Week. As a sector that directly and indirectly contributes £106bn in GDP and supports 2.6 million jobs, it was a fitting occasion to recognise the vital contribution tourism makes to the UK, both economically and culturally.

The Tourism Alliance, which represents more than 50 trade associations crucial to England’s tourism offer, including the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), kicked off English Tourism Week with an annual conference I was privileged to attend.

The highlight of the conference was hearing minister for tourism Michael Ellis speak so highly of the sector and the importance of investment in businesses that drive visitors to popular tourist destinations, whether staycationers or from overseas. Michael noted how the Discover England Fund has an important role to play in this, as do the Coastal Communities Fund and Future High Streets Fund, all showing the UK is open for business and a great place for tourists.

On the day of yet another Brexit vote, it was fitting Michael emphasised how important our reputation for hospitality excellence is when attracting visitors from around the world.

More significantly, Michael suggested we are close to getting a sector deal for tourism over the line. In a week that also saw a House of Lords Select Committee report recommend the government should press ahead with this deal, English Tourism Week was a good time to announce this.

The perennial elephant in the room when it comes to tourism and hospitality businesses is, of course, business rates so it was fitting we held a panel session during the conference to discuss its impact. From pubs, restaurants and hotels to historic houses and leisure attractions – the businesses key to English tourism’s success story all require physical properties to operate and face an unfair business rate burden.

Numbers surrounding the business rates that tourism and hospitality businesses face make uncomfortable reading. Following the 2017 rates revaluation, South West Tourism Alliance saw a rates increase of between 43% and 71% for professional self-caterers with more than 13 beds. BBPA research reveals pubs pay 2.7% of the entire business rates bill despite accounting for only 0.5% of business turnover.

The current business rates system is clearly obsolete and needs a complete overhaul. The damage it is doing to our pubs and the wider hospitality sector – particularly when combined with other major tax burdens such as beer duty – is a huge concern for what is a crucial part of England’s tourism offer.

At the end of English Tourism Week I settled down for a pub lunch with Mims Davies, minister for sport with responsibilities for gambling and tackling loneliness. At the Good Companions in Eastleigh, a wonderful example of an English pub, the struggle against the tax burden hospitality businesses such as pubs face felt real indeed. Dan and Claire, who lease the pub from Star Pubs & Bars, offer exceptional food and drink. Dan was recently elected to the board of the local Business Improvement District to ensure a vibrant but safe nightlife in Eastleigh – something that’s crucial for all tourist hot spots. Beyond this, Dan and Claire take part in various initiatives to help tackle loneliness in the community.

Hospitality businesses including pubs such as the Good Companions are vital in driving economic growth through job creation and attracting visitors to an area to spend their money. Beyond this they also have a clear role in tackling loneliness, which is so important to our mental health and community cohesion.

Cuts to business rates and beer duty would go a long way in helping pubs specifically but also supporting the hospitality sector as a whole and the vital role it plays in England’s tourism offer. A sector deal for tourism remains essential. Let’s hope the minister for tourism is right in saying it’s almost in our grasp.
Brigid Simmonds is chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association

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