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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 8th Jun 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Meat-free used to be murder, nanny state on steroids, when Greggs gets it right, and addressing the gender pint gap

Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase, Oliver Fenton, and Annabel Smith and Lisa Harlow

Meat-free used to be murder by Glynn Davis

My daughter has a teacher who has been vegan for about 30 years and during that period she endured being seen as a bit of a crank and generally been unable to eat out because restaurants were simply unable or unwilling to pander to her supposed whims.

Not any more. The appetite for vegan, plant-based and vegetarian food (they all blur somewhat in my mind) is now growing at a cracking rate – with the trend driven by the younger consumer. A recent dinner at Wulf & Lamb was proof of this increasingly prevalent dynamic in the market place.

This six-month-old restaurant in the heart of Knightsbridge was full of younger (mainly female) diners on my visit, which is not unusual I was told by owner Philip Ryan, who has frequently seen grown-ups bring their parents to the restaurant before the parents then visit without their offspring.

This scenario is down to the fact the number of vegans in the 16 to 24-year-old bracket is as high as 5%, which reduces to a more negligible 1% among 25 to 34-year-olds before falling off a cliff. For older consumers, the vegan options available to them in their formative years were seriously unappealing and so it has not been a particularly viable option for all but the committed.

However, this has changed in a big way and restaurants such as Wulf & Lamb are indicative of the movement and development of this type of diet. Its menu is not designed for people on a health regime (often the perception of veganism) but is created with taste as the primary objective. 

The dishes that leave its small kitchen (headed by a former Michelin-starred chef) are flavour-packed with a few rich ingredients, with nuts a component of a number of them on the concise menu. The restaurant’s location means it attracts its fair share of affluent locals, who are more likely to be on-trend with fashionable foods and front-runners such as vegan and meat-free propositions.

We could argue it is a similar scenario with two young television stars, Lucy and Tiffany Watson, from the Made in Chelsea series, who recently opened vegan restaurant Tell Your Friends in the smart area of Parson’s Green in west London. They have been helped in their venture by father Clive, who co-founded City Pub Company.

But to think vegan and meat-free movements are limited to specific pockets of society misses the point. It is being embraced by a growing number of people across demographics and regions. Recognising this shift, Fuller’s has introduced a temporary all-vegetarian menu at its Fence pub in the capital.

It’s a pretty diverse menu that will no doubt be used as a testbed to see how far the company can push these meat-free, plant-based options into other parts of its estate. It was a similar toe-in-the-water approach that saw Pret A Manger trial a single vegetarian outlet before opening further veggie-only units and introducing certain items from this menu on to the shelves of all its standard outlets.

We also have Canadian chain Freshii, which hopes to bring its vegan/vegetarian mash-up to as many as 200 restaurants across the UK in the next five years. Chilango has also been experimenting, with a recently launched “powered by plants” menu that consists of three meat-free dishes to run alongside its regular spring and summer menu. One of these dishes is chilli non-carne, a meat-free take on the Mexican classic, which is also available on the Wulf & Lamb menu.

This indicates there is still a feeling among many diners that they want familiarity when it comes to vegan and vegetarian food. This is why as much as 40% of sales at Wulf & Lamb derive from its two burger options (one is made with seitan, which replicates the look and texture of meat). It is inevitable this will shift as diners become more confident in eating a broader base of meat-free dishes. Judging by the trajectory of sales and blizzard of publicity surrounding vegan and plant-based diets, it won’t take long for this to happen.

It seems this part of the foodservice market could develop rapidly, enabling my daughter’s teacher to finally eat out in a broad swathe of restaurants and not be seen as the odd one out. It’s fair to say the rest of the population is finally catching up with the minority.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Nanny state on steroids by Paul Chase 

There seems no limit to the ambition of food nannies to micro-manage what we eat and drink at home or when going out. Hot on the heels of the government’s announcement it is considering minimum unit pricing as part of a new alcohol strategy, it has said it will consult on restricting or taxing the sale of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). 

Included in the proposals being considered are bans on two-for-one deals and celebrity endorsements of so-called junk food in a new campaign against childhood obesity. Unlimited refills of sugary drinks in restaurants may be outlawed along with banning the use of cartoons promoting HFSS foods – so out goes Tony the Tiger and, shock-horror, Percy Pigs! They might get away with Tony but mess with Percy Pigs from Marks & Spencer and you mess with the middle classes. Good luck with that one. Proposals are also being considered to extend the sugar levy to include milkshakes and other milk products high in sugar. And a legal ban on selling energy drinks to under-16s. Oh, and then there are proposals to introduce a 9pm watershed on television adverts for junk-food and mandate what can and can’t be positioned near the checkouts in supermarkets to “protect parents” from pester-power!

How did it come to this? The political rationale for the sort of measures endorsed by, among others, Jamie Oliver, seems to be based on the belief celebrity chefs are popular, so if government does what they recommend it will be popular too. Until voters realise how much this will raise the cost of food. But the main justification is the moral panic about childhood obesity or the “childhood obesity epidemic” as it is often referred to.

The statistic quoted most frequently is one in five 11-year-olds are obese and something must be done. But is this even true? It turns out adult and childhood obesity is calculated differently. With adults, the calculation is based on body mass index, with a BMI cut-off point of 30 or above placing you in the obese category. But BMI doesn’t really work with children because they are still growing, so obesity statistics for children are based on a mathematical model. It works like this – if a child’s weight today would have placed them in the heaviest 5% of children in their age group in 1990, for statistical purposes they are classified as obese. 

So childhood obesity figures are not based on clinical judgments but on a classification system that assumes 5% of children in each age group in 1990 were obese. We don’t know whether they were or not, it’s just an assumption. If that assumption is wrong, all the statistical calculations about childhood obesity that are based on it will be wrong. For example, if only the heaviest 2.5% of children in 1990 were obese, then only one in ten children today will be classified as obese. If it was only the heaviest 1%, only one in 20 children today will fall into the obese category.

We know two things – body mass tends to increase with age and in 1990 less than 1% of 18-year-olds had a BMI of 30 or more. So it seems extremely unlikely one in five kids were obese aged 11 but seven years later that will reduce to fewer than one in 100. The method of calculating childhood obesity is unfit for purpose and the moral panic about childhood obesity is just that. So we potentially have a government policy based on the hunch that the recommendations of celebrity chefs and noisy pressure groups such as Action On Obesity will reduce childhood obesity levels, which are themselves based on yet another flawed public health mathematical model. You couldn’t make this up.

Government needs to concentrate on effective management of the macro-economic environment in which we all earn our living and stop trying to micro-manage the contents of consumers’ shopping baskets. The “roid-rage” of a nanny state on steroids will heap costs on consumers, limit choice, punish the poor and do nothing to tackle either childhood or adult obesity.
Paul Chase is director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy

When Greggs gets it right by Oliver Fenton

The story of Greggs is one of a traditional British baker turned huge high-street player. Founded in the north east, the brand rose stratospherically. A like-for-like sales increase in the fourth quarter of 2017 was the brand’s 17th successive quarter of growth. 

Only Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee can match the number of sites Greggs has, while the brand enjoyed Ebit of £81.8m in 2017 compared with Costa’s £65m. Moreover, according to Morar HPI’s BrandVue Eating Out daily tracker, 70% of UK consumers would consider going to Greggs, with one in three viewing the brand as one of their favourite places to eat. 

However, the Greggs story is not one of simply sticking to sausage rolls and pasties. The brand has taken risks in its marketing and brand strategies, with some paying off and others quickly forgotten. This year, it has scheduled £125m of investment and 130 new stores. However, recent profit warnings have led some to question whether Greggs’ strategy is paying off.

Strategic decisions 
In 2016, Greggs decided to offer something different – a healthy menu. This widened its offer to a new audience –health-conscious people who tend to be younger and more affluent than traditional bakery customers. BrandVue data shows in June 2017, only 2% of the UK public associated Greggs with healthiness. In a year this has risen to 10% of all consumers, surpassing high-street competitors Costa Coffee, Five Guys, McDonald’s and Caffe Nero. This is further evidenced by sales data. Since the healthy menu was introduced, overall sales at Greggs have risen 6.8%, with healthy options now taking more than 10% of all sales. 

Greggs has also tried to take on the coffee shop market – trialling coffee-only concept Moments in Newcastle department stores and shopping centres in 2011. The public weren’t convinced but rather than cancelling the project, Greggs decided to bring it “in-store”. The company rejigged and competitively priced its coffee offer to compete with the largest brands in the UK. Today, Greggs sells more than one million coffees a week, with the frothy cappuccino its third most popular item. Although the initial strategic decision didn’t pay off, the company reimagined it in a way that suited the brand instead of discarding it. 

Marketing
Greggs’ marketing team has also challenged brand perceptions. In the run up to Christmas last year it infamously portrayed the nativity scene with baby Jesus represented by a sausage roll, while for Valentine’s Day this year it promoted a romantic meal for two. Both were comedic takes on the company’s image, but which resonated best with consumers? BrandVue data reveals in both early December 2017 and mid-February 2018, 38% of the public had heard something positive about Greggs but baby Jesus sausage roll created a more negative buzz than the Valentine’s meal. Despite this, brand affinity (how liked the brand is by the general public), rose 10% to 53% in both cases. Similarly, consideration peaked at 71%. Sometimes, all news is good news. 

The present 
More recently, however, there has been whiff of embattlement. Greggs reported the prolonged winter of 2017/18 caused like-for-like sales to drop 1.3%, leading to a warning to expect a flat year for profit growth. 

Blaming freak weather is an easy way to placate stakeholders but rising rents and a saturated, tentative consumer market – problems currently affecting all eating out brands – are other reasons for this challenging outlook. BrandVue Eating Out shows consideration of the brand has fallen 5% since its mid-buzz high of 71% on Valentine’s Day, while preference has dropped 7% to 27% during the same period. A definite “softening” of the metrics is occurring.

The future
Greggs has shown its philosophy doesn’t include resting on its laurels, so what can be done to further improve the brand? 

It is clear Greggs relies heavily on a specific type of occasion – 44% of all customer visits are conducted while out shopping, with a “quick refuel” (14%) way behind in second place. Consumers still don’t plan to visit and don’t stick around when they do so efforts could focus on increasing dwell time, which offers an opportunity to increase spend. Indeed, Greggs is in the process of introducing a hot meal menu at traditional dayparts to contend with quick-service restaurants (QSR). Drive-thrus, Greggs’ first opened in early 2017, are another attempt to target the QSR market. 

Achieving a greater variety of food purchases would only improve Greggs’ bottom line. BrandVue shows three in four Greggs visitors buy only light savoury bites – a clear indication of a single type of offer. Surprisingly, however, only one in ten purchases include a light sweet bite and there looks to be an opportunity to use the popularity of coffee to develop special “coffee and Danish” deals. 

BrandVue data will show how new initiatives resonate with the public, with clear evidence at a sub-group level as to exactly how consumers are responding. 

How can other high-street brands learn from Greggs? Key to making successful strategic decisions is knowing how to deviate from pre-existing consumer perceptions. Greggs spotted some trends before they became widespread and implemented its change of direction without alienating current customers.

For instance, Greggs’ publicity stunt a week ago was directed at the market it seems set on appealing to. For one day, Greggs’ changed its branding to Gregory & Gregory and sold healthy options at a food festival to a hipster audience unaware the produce was Greggs’. Cue prolonged descriptions of “essence of vinaigrettes” and startled expressions when the origin of the produce was revealed. This approach not only emphasised that Greggs’ quality is on par with fashionable independent cuisine but also mocked the hipster trend, stating: “We are still the Greggs you know and love.”

Greggs proves risk-taking can be beneficial but, in the current climate, research and consumer insight should supplement decision-making to ensure the best direction is taken. This is a time of opportunity for the whole high street. 
Oliver Fenton is an analyst at Morar HPI’s food and drink division

Addressing the gender pint gap by Annabel Smith and Lisa Harlow

Wander into any half decent pub or bar and you’ll usually find yourself in beer heaven. Among familiar global brands will be local cask brews on hand-pulls, craft ales on tap, and a plethora of national and international bottled and canned beer in the coolers. Wander down the beer aisle in most supermarkets and check the variety and range of beer on sale. As a nation of beer-drinkers, we’ve never had it so good.

However, taking a closer look we see that while the beer industry thinks it’s making great strides, it appears female consumers haven’t come on the same journey.

Britain has one of the lowest percentages of female beer drinkers in the world – only 17% drink beer at least once a week compared with 53% of men. In the US, that statistic rises to 26% of women drink beer regularly. with an astonishing 60% in Italy. So amidst a rapidly changing beer landscape we thought it was about time we found out whether women’s opinions and perceptions about beer have changed since the last major survey, conducted by Molson Coors in 2009. It was time to question those “good news” stories in the media about more women embracing beer by taking a long hard look at the reality.

In the 2009 survey, 9% of women said they would order a beer rather than any other alcoholic drink. In the 2018 Dea Latis survey, when asked the same question the figure remained the same – no shift in almost ten years.

Why had there been no change? We started exploring some of the responses and compiled the findings in The Gender Pint Gap report, released last month. Taste appears to be a great divider. Of the women who drink beer, 56% do so because they like the taste but of the women who never drink beer, 83% say they don’t like the taste. Have these women had a bad beer experience that doesn’t suit their palate? Do they think all beer tastes the same and, if so, who is offering them an educated recommendation? It appears not many retailers are exploring this opportunity, or even taking it seriously.

The report examines further barriers and challenges that alienate women from beer. Volume of liquid, misconceptions about calorific content and “health implications” were identified as impediments. Male-orientated advertising and marketing are barriers for more than a quarter of all women. A total of 17% cited “being judged by others” as a reason for not picking beer as a drink of choice.

No real “new” news there but, when you consider attitudes and perceptions have not changed in almost a decade, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise there is something wrong in the way beer retailers in the UK are portraying and presenting beer to women.

There is clearly a large untapped audience of female consumers that offers huge commercial benefits if addressed appropriately. Retailers should be taking up the challenge and reinventing the way beer is presented across the gender divide. Look, for example, what glassware has done for the gin category. Beer should be positioned as a premium product alongside wine and spirits, not the poor relation. Glassware is the obvious step – stemmed or stylish glasses and offering a “large or small” glass instead of the ubiquitous “pint”. Beer presented in different sizes and formats rather than chugged down in pints is much more European.

How many bartenders present an order for a beer and a glass of wine to a couple by serving the beer to the man and wine to the woman? We see it on social media all the time. How many of you have told a supplier that a sexist or misogynistic beer name or pump clip is unacceptable in your business?

We also know from the report that casual dining sector and “third space” occasions are prime opportunities for women to drink and sample beer. Retailers that communicate clear, concise information about flavour, style and calorific content can change perceptions – accomplished through training and education.

These are all subtle but achievable changes by the retail industry that could make a real difference. The report concludes with a beer-drinking woman’s manifesto. This is – be passionate about beer, challenge ingrained perceptions, demand education and information, and don’t feel judged. Drink your beer with pride and call out sexist branding.

Beer doesn’t have a gender and there is nothing remarkable about a woman drinking beer, but it is becoming increasingly evident we need to question the way we are positioning and portraying beer to half the UK’s population. To read the full report, visit www.dealatis.org.uk
Annabel Smith and Lisa Harlow are co-founders of Dea Latis. Smith is a freelance beer sommelier and is employed as a trainer, writer, consultant and public speaker to the beer industry and consumers. She was Imbibe Educator of the Year 2017

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