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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 8th Apr 2022 - Friday Opinion

Subjects: Hoping for the end of public health authoritarianism, using every last cut, the craft of expansion, better together

Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Sarah Travell, Mike Strange


Hoping for the end of public health authoritarianism by Paul Chase

It is understandable that our government and governments around the world looked to their respective public health establishments to provide policy advice and used that as a cover to escape blame for some of the pain lockdown measures caused. In some parts of the world, the government is refusing to learn the lessons of failed lockdown policies – one has only to look at the current lockdown of 26 million people in the city of Shanghai to see that zero-covid fanaticism and the authoritarian policies it leads to is alive and well. 
 
In the face of economic necessity, over-hyped ideological positions are being vacated by governments worldwide, with a diminishing number of notable exceptions – Australia, New Zealand and China come to mind. We have seen the hyper-precautionary approach of whole population measures to deal with covid vacated by the government in England in the face of the huge costs of maintaining them. £400bn extra national debt and the provision of “free” covid testing that was costing the taxpayer £2bn a month to maintain has been abandoned. So, the government has pivoted from championing whole population, big state measures to counter covid and has rediscovered personal responsibility and just staying at home if you feel ill. Even the more authoritarian approach of the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales is crumbling now that the limits of English taxpayer support has been reached.
 
Whatever may have been the tortuous road by which the right decisions were eventually taken, our own government should be commended for being one of the earliest to take the political risks involved in abandoning draconian restrictive measures and urging the population to treat covid as they would treat flu – just another respiratory disease with which we must deal. And – despite all the anti-vaccination rhetoric and conspiratorial nonsense spread online – to lead and implement a fantastically successful vaccination programme. One of the reasons for the current spread of covid in Shanghai and Hong Kong is the low take-up of vaccinations. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I doubt the UK government would handle a similar epidemic in the same way again. Lessons, I believe, have been learned.
 
However, there are some longer-term lessons to be learned about the nature of our so-called public health movement that I hope will be addressed in the public enquiry that will investigate how we responded to this crisis. It is no accident that public health authorities singled out hospitality in general – and pubs, bars and nightclubs particularly – for lockdown measures. The only other sector that has been hit as hard as ours is international travel and tourism. 
 
Public health is a longstanding social and political movement, and movements tend, by their very nature, to morph into puritanism. Historically, public health has concerned itself with measures to improve the general health of the population – measures that can only be enacted by government. Sewage disposal, clean drinking water, clean air measures and the development of mass vaccination programmes to combat mass communicable diseases are part of a legacy that public health in this country should be proud of. But since the 1970s, public health has moved away from improving the living conditions of the masses to a puritanical obsession with controlling personal lifestyle choices. This is one of the reasons why we were so woefully unprepared for the return of an old-fashioned communicable disease epidemic. 
 
What our government needs to recognise is that the modern public health movement is a collectivist enterprise. It has its origins in the 1970s, and the emergence of a small group of scientists around a social scientist named Kettil Bruun, who were profoundly anti-alcohol. It was also around this time that we saw the development of epidemiology – a kind of pseudo-science that was used by those with an anti-business political agenda to link diseases to modern consumerism and what they regarded as the industrial vectors of disease. Not just tobacco, but alcohol production and consumption, so-called junk food and modern travel that accelerated the velocity of transmission of communicable diseases globally. To put it more succinctly, the modern public health movement sees private enterprise as a conspiracy against public health. This attitude is deeply ingrained, and it is no surprise that public health authorities thought it was a good idea to close pubs, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants – and covid provided them with a handy excuse. 
 
The new measures that came into force this week to put calorie counts on menus are just the latest in a lengthy line of measures to save the public from the sins of gluttony and inebriation. The abolition of Public Health England – the mothership of the vast, public health succubus – was a step in the right direction. But its replacement with The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) as the nation's new public health body – headed-up by the hapless Jenny Harries – looks like a change of name rather than a change of mission.
 
I hope our government will recognise that the politics of the modern public health movement is antithetical to market capitalism, and to business in general. In any future pandemic, the government should ensure that it widens its advice to include economists and people from the world of commerce and business, so it never again relies upon the advice of a narrow group of ideologically driven public health zealots. I do not think we have seen the last of public health authoritarianism yet.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

Using every last cut by Glynn Davis

Anglo restaurant in London’s Farringdon area had been recommended to me by a chef-turned-brewer who uses foraged materials in his beers at the aptly named Earth Ales brewery, recently relocated from London to the Oxfordshire countryside. We’re talking dandelion root in his stout, hogweed in his Weiss beer and lemon verbena in his excellent pale ale.
 
It did not surprise me to find the menu at Anglo – a fixed nine-course affair – leaned heavily on foraged ingredients along with seasonal produce, the judicious use of fermentation to help juice up the flavours of the raw materials and a focus on local sourcing (yes, even in London it can be done).
 
Foraging, seasonality and locality is nothing new of course, but it struck me that in these times of rampant inflation, there is now an imperative to focus on these elements in order to potentially reduce the input costs of restaurants. What Anglo also reduced to a minimum was its use of expensive proteins. Across the courses, there was only a small portion of Scottish salmon and a similar sized cut of lamb.
 
Did this affect the meal adversely? Not one jot. Quite the contrary, in fact, as the stars of the show were a roll call of what I understand to be relatively inexpensive raw materials including cauliflower, seaweed, broad beans, purple sprouting broccoli, oyster leaf and British buckwheat. What made them stand out was their intelligent and expert use by the chef. The skill in the back room was what I was really paying for, not some imported expensive meat. 
 
I’m not particularly interested in paying for a variety of expensive ingredients just for the sake of it. I can understand why people would be demanding of having rich ingredients on the menu at higher end restaurants – I’m thinking truffles, lobster, Wagyu beef, caviar and even that ridiculous thing, gold leaf. But they are expensive to start with, so by the time the kitchen has done its work, the costs start to properly escalate.
 
What concerns me more is that these items will often have been sourced from far afield, and all too frequently be out of season. The restaurant industry at the top end still sits alongside other luxury sectors in that the perception is often at odds with sustainability. Thankfully this scenario is gradually changing, and top chefs like Simon Rogan are taking a more holistic view of their propositions, and at the heart of this is ingredients. 
 
He has always had an eye on sustainable sourcing, and today, what would have been food waste from his kitchen is being repurposed into key ingredients in other dishes as well as being used as key components of cocktails. For instance, at his Roganic Hong Kong restaurant, pineapple cores and lemon skins from the staff breakfast are used in the tepache, a Mexican lemonade infused with pineapple.
 
Skye Gyngell has long been a pioneer of utilising ingredients that would be heading for the bin and uses trimmings and off-cuts at her Spring restaurant within the dishes on the early evening Scratch menu, which is a bargain at £25 for three courses. 
 
Don’t think it is just at the top end where the clever use of ingredients is becoming recognised as a way to potentially enhance the profit and loss, and not just as an exercise in ticking the sustainability box. Josh Eggleton of the Pony Restaurant Group interestingly converted his Chicken Shed concept in Bristol to Root. Disillusioned that diners only wanted a chicken wrap or fried chicken sandwich, he overnight switched the focus to predominantly serving cleverly cooked vegetables, with proteins playing a secondary role. 
 
The consideration of ingredients and menu composition is something every foodservice operator will have to study increasingly closely, because with the prices of all raw materials, along with every other input cost, still on the upward escalator, there is only so much that the price points across existing, long-standing menus can be pushed up before there is some widespread resistance from customers.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends 
 

The craft of expansion by Sarah Travell

The past two years – the lockdowns, the restrictions, the openings and closings – have been enough to turn anyone to drink. As we open up, we are facing a set of new challenges set to drive us all to the bar – namely soaring costs. History shows us that, as pockets come under increasing pressure, consumers will become more discerning, seeking a premium experience. This is in line with what we are seeing in the latest Propel Multi-Site Database, launched last week, which features a number of operators looking to match that need. 
 
The database, with which we are proud to partner, has now grown to include 2,407 companies, operating 64,883 sites. An additional 69 companies, which operate 496 sites between them, were added during March 2022, including bar operators Mr Lyan and Nightjar.
The latter is an east London speakeasy bar founded by Edmund Weil and Roisin Stimpson. The company also operates Swift, in Old Compton Street, and Oriole, in Smithfield’s Market. The business is this month opening Nightjar Kingly Court in the heart of London’s West End. The new site will “recreate the low-lit magic of the Old Street original, complete with a lavish range of rare, revived and original cocktails, late-night live music, prohibition-era decor and a menu of vintage spirits and cocktails dating to the mid-19th century”. 

Fellow newbie to the database, the Mr Lyan bar group, which is owned by cocktail industry legend Ryan Chetiyawardana and includes London venues the Mr Lyan Studio and Lyaness at the Sea Containers hotel, plus Super Lyan in Amsterdam and Silver Lyan in Washington DC, has also launched a new top-end venue. Last month, the group launched Seed Library at east London’s newest hotel, One Hundred Shoreditch. Featuring a “lo-fi, analogue approach to bartending”, Seed Library offers a frequently changing cocktail list, featuring new takes on classic mixes alongside low-intervention wine and craft beer. 

This emphasis on craft isn’t just restricted to cocktail bar openings either. New twists on the coffee and tea bars are also in evidence, especially if an artisan bakery or food offer is involved. Yorks Café, founded and owned by Simon Ford, currently operates four sites, and the business will open a new cafe and all-day-dining restaurant in the heart of the £700m Paradise development in Centenary Way, Birmingham, this spring. At 2,900 square feet, Yorks’ flagship new base at Paradise will offer a “spacious place for people to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and a cutting edge, all-day food menu”. Likewise, Aussie-inspired coffee concept Urban Baristas, founded in 2016 from a small kiosk in Bounds Green, north London, is looking to open its latest site, at 44 Harrington Road, South Kensington, this month. The company also has a roastery and cafe in London Dock in the pipeline and runs an online coffee subscription and delivery service. 

Unsurprisingly, others are looking to get into a part of the sector they still feel has plenty of room in which to grow, including the founders of Smith & Western, the south east-based US-style restaurant chain. The Sandford family will launch the first Amici Coffee Co site in East Street, Horsham, later this month. The new concept will be adjacent to the company’s Smith & Western site, which opened last year, after the business relocated its site in Horsham to a more central location in the West Sussex town. At the same time, those more established coffee shop operators are continuing to expand their geographic reach. Rob Darby, co-founder of Nottingham based coffee roaster 200 Degrees, recently said the company is looking to add around five stores a year to its estate. The group will open a site at The Glass Works development in Barnsley later this month for its 16th outlet, followed by its third Nottingham venue in May.

And if coffee isn’t your cup of tea, then what about the continued rise of bubble tea? Cupp is a UK bubble tea brand founded by Lee Peacock in Bristol in 2012. The company currently operates 11 sites across Bristol, Cardiff, London, Leeds, Salisbury and Leicester. In addition, the business has recently signed a new franchise deal to open 30 sites in Scotland over the next five years. Later this spring, the company is scheduled to open three new London sites in Camden, Green Street, and Harrow. It has also secured a site in Reading, and in Wilmslow Road, Manchester. 

Even as costs rise, those businesses that can combine delivering consumers something a bit special at the same time as understanding every facet of their business – from their trading position and cash position to real-time margins across the breadth of their operations – can look to expand, whatever their tipple of choice.
Sarah Travell is the founder and chief executive of Virgate, sponsor of the Propel Multi-Site Database. The database is one of the benefits Premium subscribers receive. The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. Companies can have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription.

Better together by Mike Strange

Now more than ever, UK enterprises are working towards building a sustainable future, with the goal of meeting a net zero target by 2050. Take Microsoft, for example, whose pursuit for net zero is influencing many of its business decisions. In fact, consulting firm McKinsey last year highlighted that one of the five priorities of chief executive officers is to focus on a centralised sustainability strategy. So, what does this mean for external business partners? 
 
As a result of the tightened sustainability focus, enterprises are becoming increasingly stringent on the external companies they work with, checking them meticulously to see if their values align with their sustainable journey. They’re scrutinising all elements of their supply chains – including catering operators – to ensure best practice. This is also being driven by sky-high customer expectations. According to the Global Sustainability Study 2021, 85% of consumers have adopted more sustainable opurchase behaviour in the past five years, with more than a third willing to pay more for eco-friendly services. 
 
Aligning values
 
McKinsey points out that, even when sustainability is front and centre as a corporate commitment, problems with execution persist. This is why it’s so crucial that businesses work in tandem with their catering partners – who, in turn, interact closely with restaurant brands – to create a strong foundation of values that are baked into every step of the supply chain. Rather than sporadic and siloed efforts, corporate social responsibility strategies on sustainability will naturally perform best when they take an overview of the environmental footprint on a cross-company scale, to bring about wider transformation. 
 
For example, with an estimated 500 million plastic boxes used across the UK’s takeaway sector every year, our business is currently expanding our CLUBZERØ scheme, which allows participating restaurants to offer reusable food boxes. The programme means packaging can be collected through the CLUBZERØ app or deposited at designated CLUBZERØ locations. On the delivery front, we also work with an eco-friendly service, e-cargo bike company Pedal Me, to provide options that directly align with our business partners and the customers they serve.
 
Focus on food
 
The commitment to making these changes is important, but the push to create a more sustainable food framework does not end there. Increasingly, we are seeing more and more emphasis on the actual food as a cause of environmental damage rather than the packaging that houses it. Our research shows that 80% of our company emissions are down to food production rather than delivery. As a result, we’re working closely with our restaurant suppliers to ensure every single one has a vegan and vegetarian offering – because more choice seeds greater incentive for consumers to move beyond traditional options. Consequently, a third of all items chosen on our platform are now vegetarian or vegan. 
 
A holistic effort

Of course, tackling the food world’s role in climate change isn’t as simple as encouraging customers to change what they order. The picture is too nuanced. For example, air-transported fruit and veg can actually produce more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogramme than poultry meat. Yet transport is only a small contributor to emissions and beef, lamb, pork and dairy can have a huge impact on the environment – so there are other factors at play. 
 
Equally, businesses need to think beyond short term initiatives to negate their environmental impact. Since December 2020, we at Just Eat for Business have worked with Certified B corporation ClimateCare to offset the emissions we emit as a result of delivering food to offices. Yet we’re aware this is not an easy way out – it’s a short-term solution we’re using as we work to cut down our emissions more widely (including addressing food, delivery and packaging options). 
 
Playing hospitality’s part in the climate crisis is something that takes a conscious, consistent and collaborative effort. It’s a complex feat that involves many subtleties, and the goalposts are constantly shifting. So, looking to the future, we need to continue the development of how we work to ensure that we are aligned with the increasing demand from business leaders for sustainable offerings. As individuals and as companies, every action we take is crucial. If we, as a sector, work alongside our partners on food sustainability, we can become more accountable and create an impact that is more cohesive and profound.
Mike Strange is operations director at Just Eat for Business

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