These days, the word ‘halal’ is becoming more and more prevalent; on supermarket shelves, in restaurant chains and on social media. But do you actually know what it means? Well, assuming you’re not Muslim or well informed on the subject, it’s time to brush up! This is because halal food is big business. So without further ado…
What is halal?
Halal means permissible, i.e. that which follows the rules set out in the Quran. However, it is NOT just related to food; it covers many aspects of life, all of which can be divided between ‘halal’ (permissible) and ‘haram’ (banned). When it comes to food and drink, the rules are extensive and also, open to interpretation. These are the big ones:
- All vegetable, fruit, grain and seafood is halal.
- Meat is halal, providing the animal has been killed in the kindest possible way with appropriate prayers said at the time of death by a sane Muslim man. Also, the blood must be drained while the animal is alive.
- Pork is not allowed. The definitive reason behind this restriction is somewhat unclear.
- Meat must not have been killed in the name of any deity other than Allah.
- No alcohol or intoxicants. This includes the animals, who must not be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, since the hormones may contain pork-based ingredients.
- Animals must be fed vegetarian diets, which means that many chickens and cows raised on U.S. farms don’t qualify, as their feed often contains animal byproducts.
- Animals must be respected and their slaughter given as much dignity as possible, i.e. they should be reared in a way that gives them shelter, food, water and space, similar to that which they receive in the wild, and they should not see another animal’s slaughter before their own.
There are other details, but due to the lack of a universal standard it is hard to define halal exactly. Hence the debate rages…
Why does halal court controversy in the press?
Some descriptions of halal claim that by draining the blood from the animal while it is still conscious (without cutting the spinal cord or stunning it), you improve the meat in many ways. This view is based on the belief that blood makes meat more susceptible to putrefaction, which negatively impacts taste and freshness. Also, with less blood the buyer is taking home more meat pound per pound.
However, this study from 2015 proves there is no difference in the amount of blood drained between stunning and not-stunning. Also, many health experts and campaigners, such as the RSPCA, argue that killing animals without stunning causes them “unnecessary suffering”.
This viewpoint, also held by the British Veterinary Association, Peta and the Farm Animal Welfare Council, is in line with legislation from the European Union that requires animals to be stunned before slaughter.
Although there is an exemption given by the British Government that allows non-stunning on religious grounds, the vast majority of halal butchers comply with this legislation. In fact, 88% of Britain’s halal meat comes from animals that have been stunned before slaughter and the 12% that do not certainly court controversy within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
However, it is interesting to note figures from the Foods Standards Agency which show how the number of non-stunned sheep slaughtered in Britain has doubled in six years between 2011 and 2017, to more than three million. Also, with Brexit looming, there is the issue of Britain leaving the EU and how this will affect regulations.
With more and more focus on animal rights as well as the economic incentive of stunning (one butcher in Manchester told the Independent: “Non-stun slaughter is a much lengthier process…It can take a week to kill 500 lambs.”), it seems likely that stunning will remain the norm for halal meat.
What might help stem this minimal trend for non-stunning is if a respected organisation could declare a universal standard. The IHAF (International Halal Accreditation Forum) has set itself the task of doing this.
As it continues to gain credibility, it may be able to host multilateral agreements, which would streamline accreditation and distribution making the end product cheaper and more accessible for everyone. Ultimately, this should result in increased sales. But why is this momentum building?
Because the Muslim market matters, big time!
Both in the U.K. and across the world, the interest in and the provision of halal products is increasing and at quite a considerable rate. The State of the Global Muslim Economy Report 2017/8 from Thomson Reuters estimates that global Muslim spend across lifestyle sectors was $2 trillion in 2016. Out of all the categories that make up this spend, Food and Beverage leads the way with a spend of $1.24 trillion. Apart from being the largest sector of the Islamic economy, it is also the most diverse, as product offerings no longer simply refer to meat, but also to confectionary, ready-meals, snacks and children’s food.
To give some comparison, so the scale of demand can be fully appreciated, it is worth noting that Muslim spend on F&B is growing at nearly double that of global growth. It is also expected to reach $1.93 trillon by 2022. But why this apparent massive growth?
It mainly comes down to the rate at which Muslim populations are growing, which is rapidly. According to one research centre there will be a 73% increase between 2010 and 2050. If this quite astounding projection is true that means that in 2050, more than a quarter of the world’s population will be Muslim (a rise from 1.6 billion to 2.8 billion).
High fertility rates combined with a youthful demographic in countries with majority Muslim populations has something to do with this rate of growth, but it also true of minority Muslim countries, like India, which will have the largest Muslim population in the world (311m) by 2050.
As the economic landscape shifts to the East and the middle classes increase (to 900 million by 2030), their spending power becomes more and more relevant. Hence why the F&B multinationals are starting to pay attention.
Catering to halal
Unilever recently invested $33.3 million into its Halal food operations in South East Asia, while private equity and sovereign wealth funds have also been investing heavily. Interesting partnerships have begun to pop up, such as the e-commerce site Aladdin Street signing a five year partnership with Manchester Utd. Knowing the Manchester demographic and this partnership it is not surprising that the Intu Old Trafford Centre hosted The Muslim Lifestyle Expo last weekend which, of course, focussed a great deal on halal food.
Halal and the meat industry
Muslims in the UK represent about 5% of the population, but they consume around 20% of all the lamb sold as well as a growing percentage of beef. This appetite as well as the value of the halal meat industry (around £2.6bn a year according to Eblex) is why the meat industry is beginning to value the Muslim pound, especially at a time when veganism and vegetarianism is stemming rate of sales more generally.
And it’s not just the meat industry in the U.K. that has woken up to this demand. According to Al Jazeera, eight of the ten largest suppliers of global halal meat are non-Muslim majority countries with Brazil, Australia and India all leading the way.
In Australia, 500K people declare themselves Muslim. This growing demographic plus its close access to the South East Asian market (home to some of the biggest halal consumers), is why the country is such a trusted source of halal lamb and beef. As such it adopts one of the strictest halal programs in the world. New Zealand also proudly declares that all of their lamb is halal. Much of which is sold in U.K. supermarkets.
Check out next week’s blog for part two of this article, which looks at how big retail, the restaurant industry and influencers are part of the halal wake up call.
Is it a beer? Is it a wine? No, it’s actually a fermented tea…but its amazing properties will make you feel like a superman/ woman. Join us as we further define kombucha and ask interesting questions to the founder of Real Kombucha, David Begg, who has some exclusive news for us too!
What’s all the fuss about Real Kombucha?
Why does it have its own little thing going on, with dedicated followers and widespread adoption in the fine dining industry? We believe it comes down to the sophisticated depth of flavour, which means that it pairs well, and the carefully designed brewing process, which involves only a few natural ingredients, making the drink quaffable in quantity.
Why is it so appealing to the non drinking crowd?
Apart from the reasons above, it does sound quite cool…“Yes, I would like some Real Kombucha, rather than some unspecified brand/ drink doing an imitation of a spirit or a beer”…is what most hipster-type folk might think. Basically, it’s got it’s own little thing going on because it IS it’s own little thing. It’s a fermented tea! This means it is made by using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast aka a SCOBY. Some people rather affectionately call this SCOBY a mother, while other people like to call it a mushroom.
Calling the weird gelatinous creator of fermented, negligibly alcoholic, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea, a fungus or mushroom is actually misleading though. To use accurate scientific terms, the SCOBY is “a symbiotic growth of acetic acid bacteria and osmophilic yeast species in a zoogleal mat“. Thanks Wikipedia! But because that’s an awfully big mouthful, it naturally has more simplified names…
Some of our favourites include…
Cajnij, kargasok, spumonto, hongo, wunderpilz and teekwass. Because none of these sound very appealing, we can understand why the West settled on kombucha. But, out of the 80 names worldwide, where did kombucha come from? Well, the etymology is slightly uncertain, but it looks like it’s a mistranslation from Japanese. In fact, it’s not even a mistranslation, as kombucha in Japanese means kelp tea, which is a very different drink. Fungus tea in Japanese tea is actually kocha kinoko. Knowing us Western folk we probably thought we’d steal it and swap the names to make it more palatable. Or, more likely, it was an accident born out of ignorance. Whatever the case, if it gets that sweet booch into our lives, who’s complaining? And yes, booch is the current popular short hand name for U.K. devotees.
Blessed are the non-alcoholic drinkers for they shall inherit the earth
Being made of living bacteria, the SCOBY is able to grow and create tea like some beautiful alien matriarch. Although it’s not very beautiful itself, resembling a kind of bizarre flattened creme caramel, there is a beauty to its output and a healthy beauty at that. The drink is probiotic AKA it’s good for your little tummy and each drink is only 59 calories or so! When do we stop winning?
Not any time soon, as not only does Real Kombucha have the ability to taste like champagne, or a light natural cider, it also has the ability to taste like kombucha and to be enjoyed for being what it is – a funky little fermented drink with sophisticated flavours that you can drink in abundance.
Ok so let’s begin the Real Talk with Real Kombucha founder, David Begg, who kindly answered our questions…
“Why do you think people are more health-conscious these days?”
“I think there are a number of reasons, not least the fact that we’re able to understand in more depth the effect that the food we eat has on our bodies. Essentially, consumers are far more conscious these days, whether you’re talking about food or drink. People are demanding an understanding of the quality of ingredients, their source and traceability, as well as the production methods involved in all the food and drink they put in their bodies. Once upon a time we would buy our food from a shop in the village supplied by farmers within a 10 mile radius. We now ship produce and product around the world, so we need a way to be sure by the time it enters our bodies it is doing us good not harm.”
“Why do you think the youth are less inclined to drink alcohol these days?”
“Whether it’s through a behavioural change brought on by social media, or simply that we’re paying heed to the science around us and evolving, people are simply less interested in the big boozy night out. Sure, people still enjoy a session from time to time, but there’s a lot more emphasis on enjoying life in the moment. That’s certainly not what happened in my day, when a lot of weekends were spent waiting for the hangover to clear before the enjoyment started!
It’s worth pointing out that it’s not just ‘the youth’, either. While somewhere around 30% of young adults now say they’re teetotal, we’re seeing change across the generations. At Real Kombucha, we refer to this as the rise of the Modern Drinker. These are people who don’t follow the old trends. They’re looking for quality, but they’re really looking for choice.
If you look at the way that restaurants cater to the Modern Consumer, it’s all about choice. It’s not so long ago that the vegetarian option was the afterthought at the bottom of the menu, whereas these days I will often be halfway through my main dish before I realise that I have ordered a vegetarian or a vegan dish. We’re trying to encourage and empower the same thing in British pubs, where your choice is often limited to alcohol or something sugary and served with a straw. It’s that behavioural change on the part of the pub and the consumer that we’re really interested in.”
“What do you think are the major influences that affect our drinking habits?”
“If you’re talking about habits specifically, I think traditionally, and fairly consistently, peer pressure is probably one of the biggest drivers. I heard a great quote recently that said, “Alcohol is the only drug we have to apologise for not taking”, which is absolutely true. It amazes me that you can walk into a pub in 2018 and still hear people being teased and goaded for ordering a soft drink.
It’s also habitual, of course. You don’t necessarily need an outside influence to drink. It becomes part of your daily routine. When we say we want to change the way people drink, this is what we’re talking about. We’re not anti-alcohol – we just recognise that people want options. They want to be able to arrive home and pour a glass of something that has a complex, adult-oriented flavour; something that stimulates and maintains interest. When you decide to put down the wine bottle, for whatever reason, what choices do you have? That’s where a glass of really top-notch kombucha becomes very interesting indeed.”
“The British identity is quite bound up with heavy/ binge drinking. What are your predictions for how this identity will change in the near and far future?”
I think it’s already changing. As you’ve said yourself, ‘the youth’ don’t necessarily think in those terms anymore.
I think change is going to be driven by the main trends I talked about above. Alcohol is no longer going to be the prime driver of all social occasions. As meat is no longer a necessary component of every savoury dish, alcohol will be a choice rather than a necessity in our adult drinks choices.
I expect restaurant and bar menus to list a whole great range of drinks from full alcohol, to low ABV to non-alcoholic serves. Alcohol will be noted almost as a health warning, just like having three chillis on a dish says beware. But that range will not be full of sugary kids-focused soft drinks, but proper adult serves that just happen to be non-alcoholic.
And this could change the face of the Great British Pub. We have already seen great food becoming one of the prime drivers of success in modern pubs. Once pubs serve the Modern British Drinker with the choice they are looking for, the pub may once again be the hub of the local community, morning, noon and night.
But it is choice, not abstinence, that the Modern British Drinker is looking for. There are plenty of occasions that call for a really good session, but others where you just don’t want to drink alcohol at all. But more times you will find yourself flitting back and forth between a great craft beer, a beautifully crafted Real Kombucha and that stunning single malt to end the day. The difference is you will still be able to appreciate the flavour of that Islay at the end of the evening.
“You say you are part of the alcohol-free movement and that you are ‘really keen to change the way that people drink’ – what motivates you to shape people’s behaviour in this way?”
“I rarely drink, and the other members of our founding team are either completely teetotal or fairly health-conscious individuals. They’re not evangelical or boring about it – each to their own, absolutely. However, it means we know how dull it can be going out for a meal or into a pub and finding that your choices are limited to juice, sugary soft drinks or water. It’s not exactly a recipe for a great night out! So we’re motivated by the fact that we are creating an amazing-tasting drink that we want everyone to enjoy – we truly believe we’re offering the finest in in non-alcoholic fermentation – but also by the fact that we can reinvigorate things for non-drinkers who are ready to give up the tomato juice!”
“How did you get started with Real Kombucha?”
“I first tried kombucha when a great friend of mine passed me a glass of his home brew across the table over dinner. It was absolutely love at first sip. I couldn’t believe that his full flavoured brew was non-alcoholic. He and his wife had created a fantastic meal of salt cod, and the delicate smokey flavours of the kombucha really lifted the dish.
I had (almost) given up alcohol a couple of years previously. It wasn’t for any particular reason apart from it just seemed to be slowing me down. I would wake up in the morning, even after a single glass of wine, and feel a bit crap. As my wife is French, and her family is equally split between Burgundy and Bordeaux, we have always had some great wines in the house. But since being off the alcohol there was a really big hole in my foodie life. Water just doesn’t cut it with a great meal.
So Howard gave me some kombucha culture to try brewing my own, and my obsession commenced.
My first brew was quite serendipitous: we had been in India a couple of years before with the kids, and bought some great teas in Munnar in Kerala. Without really knowing much about tea at the time, I dropped some Silver Needle tea, one of the most exquisite (and expensive) teas in the world, into the brew pot. And after a week or so I got the most amazing flavours of rose and vanilla coming from the brew. And this was compared to the delicate caramel, apple and almond that had been the main flavours in Howard’s original oolong/black blend that I had tasted.
After those first few brews, I started a long process of experimentation. As my wife will attest, when I get into something I go quite deep! Tea, as it transpires, is as complex and as fascinating a world as wine. And every tea I tried gave really unimaginably different notes: even more complexity than you get from the fermentation of grapes or grain. Depending upon the teas used and the process followed, you can develop floral flavours of rose, lavender or mock orange. Fruit flavours can vary as broadly as pineapple, quince, apple, rhubarb and even banana. And you can develop smokey, spicy, and milky back notes. One of the most interesting we have in our back catalogue has extreme medicinal flavours, but I am not sure the market is ready for this quite yet.
We have to date experimented with around 150 different teas. We work with an incredible tea master, Will Battle who wrote The World Atlas of Tea, to identify and source our teas. He has introduced us to an enormous variety of teas and educated both our brains and our taste buds. Many of the resulting brews were horrible, but we also have a big back catalogue of brews that we will launch steadily over time.
But ultimately we were looking for a range of brews that would complement each other, and fit well across the different drinking occasions. Our Royal Flush is effectively our champagne, or full bodied white wine, Dry Dragon is our Sauvignon Blanc from a food pairing perspective, and our Smoke House pairs with similar foods to a medium red wine, but also serves as a beer on a warm summer evening in a country beer garden.”
“When did you first believe that Real Kombucha was going to work, i.e. be a popular product?”
Within Real Kombucha there are two clear defining moments: sitting across the table and tasting our first brew of a First Flush Darjeeling tea that became our Royal Flush. The flavour was spot on and really quite a revaluation at the time. The other moment was meeting Melania, the Sommelier at The Fat Duck, in late 2017. She gave us the confidence to really believe in the quality of our product.
“As the founder, what kind of future do you see for Real Kombucha?”
We will shortly be announcing two partnerships with important pub chains. To date we have been working primarily with very top-end restaurants, hotels and bars across the country. But working with pub chains gives us the opportunity to gain visibility across a much broader customer base.
Real Kombucha is a relatively new product in the UK market and we are unique with a focus on the on-trade as a non-alcoholic replacement for prosecco, sparkling wines and champagne. That gives us an enormous opportunity to change the way consumers are drinking but also gives us substantial challenges.
We are working closely with both of the pub chains to develop a very clear communication, training and activation programme. It is a big project to train all the bar staff, and communicate to and sample with hundreds of thousands of customers.
This is challenging but enormously rewarding. The Great British Pub has had quite a battering in recent years, and one part of this has been the fact that it doesn’t provide a compelling offer for health conscious and non-drinking customers. If we can be part of a revolution that puts the pub back in the centre of the local community, whether you are drinking or not, it will be a great success.
To find out more about the trend for drinking less, take a look at our no and low ABV drinks review here.
As things currently stand, by 2050 there could be more plastic in our waters than fish. This is quite an upsetting prediction. Not just for fish and ocean lovers, but for anyone with even a modicum of environmental awareness, which seems to be most people after Blue Planet’s watershed series last year…pun intended. With the programme being a catalyst for change across the restaurant industry over the last eight months, we thought we’d share our perspective on the single use plastic discussion.
What are the changes being made? Do they make a difference? What are the other challenges faced by the restaurant, food & drink industry? And, in terms of impact, how does the problem of single use plastic measure up against other global environmental problems?
What’s all the fuss about?
Mainly the unfathomably large amount of waste we’ve produced, the havoc it seems to be wreaking on the animal kingdom and the unknown effects of micro-plastics on humans. Since the 1950s we have produced 6.3bn tonnes of plastic waste.
Of that, only 9% has been recycled and 12% incinerated. The rest has been left on nature’s doorstep with some going into landfills. However, most ends up in the sea, where salt water and UV light break it down into micro-plastics small enough to be consumed by and collect within fish.
The effects of these micro-plastics on fish are still being determined, but there is some evidence that they absorb toxic chemicals and then release them in an animal’s digestive system. Another study revealed quite a disturbing set of results whereby nano-plastic particles lodged inside fish brains made them eat slower and explore their surroundings less.
Although there is no evidence that links the harmful effects of micro-plastics to human brain tissue or human health in general, it does make one wonder what the future holds for the fishing and restaurant industry.
In terms of people’s current aversion to single use plastic, it is mainly the ‘eww’ factor and the effect on animals that has captured the nation’s hearts. This in turn is motivating the restaurant industry to ban plastic straws and introduce recycling measures, amongst other things.
The Blue Planet effect…
AKA the naughty school kids effect, is quite an interesting phenomenon to consider before moving on to what the restaurant industry has done, is doing and pledges to do in the fight against single use plastic and the drive for a sustainable future.
Sticking with the school metaphor…it is as if, prior to Blue Planet, we were all passing notes around about some piece of gossip. Except it wasn’t about who did what at the weekend, it was about the environment. We were all part of the rumour mill, sharing our tidbits like conversation fodder. Each of us trying to shock one another and perhaps ourselves into action.
Some of us even joined an after school club to try and make a difference or occasionally became an eco warrior on the weekend. But it took the headmaster (Sir Attenborough) to stand up in assembly and school us, with simple words and devastating pictures, for us to be collectively affected.
Collectively being the operative word here. Most people will have seen videos on social media or heard from a friend or learnt at school or saw in the paper that climate change is an issue and that we are screwing the environment, but because all these instances happened on micro occasions, as individuals or in small groups, we could ignore them.
However, when roughly a sixth of the country sits down to watch a television programme and talks about it with each other the next day, we all had to look each other in the eye, like naughty school children caught with our hands in the cookie jar. We had to collectively do something. So as the media got involved and the people resolved to change, the restaurant industry was forced to evolve to meet consumer expectations. But how much change has been made and is it for the right reasons?
Single use crackdown in the restaurant industry
Some in the food & drink industry have been espousing a reusable and recyclable way of life for some time now. Namely Borough Wines & Beers, one of our longest-standing clients, whose wonderful shops can be found across London, nationwide and online.
They pioneered “the environment (and wallet!) friendly wine and beer refill system” whereby you bring your own bottle or buy one of theirs and refill it from their lovely barrels. The barrels are filled using wine from large boxes and these boxes have a considerably lower carbon footprint compared to a 75cl bottle of wine. This is due to the manufacturing, storage and transport costs involved. And, as mentioned, the price of refill wine is slashed for the consumer (by about 50%) making it win win. Although, overall consumption of wine may go up!
Apart from small independent shops and chains, like Borough Wines and Beers, the use of reusable items is not hugely prolific. Unlike the replacement of plastic straws with biodegradable or paper alternatives, which has been widely adopted across the restaurant industry. The banning of plastic straws seems like a success story then right? But before we cheers each other with our coffee cups and paper straws, maybe we should look at what our cups are made of…Also, why haven’t straws and cups always been paper?
The truth is that even an easy shift like plastic to eco-friendly straws is ruled by economics. Previously plastic was the cheaper option, but now being environmentally friendly has its cost benefits. First, in terms of customer loyalty. According to the Sustainable Brands organisation “80% of consumers say that they would feel more loyal to brands that value community and environmental growth over money and status.” Second, in terms of ROI. The CDP produced a report showing how businesses get an 18% higher ROI when they have a CSR strategy against those who don’t.
The Green Pound
But does it matter that some restaurants may only ban single use plastics in order to capture the green pound? In some ways no, for ultimately as long as consumers care, it’s the end result that matters. But in some ways yes, because true sustainability is about changing the business model, so that purpose comes before before profit.
Purpose and profit must be going hand in hand, however, when the likes of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s get involved. The former has promised to collect and recycle the equivalent of all the drinks containers it sells each year, which amounts to around 110bn plastic bottles. The latter plans to make all its packaging from recycled or renewable sources by 2025.
With these big hitters in the restaurant industry playing ball, single use seems to be on its way out.
Single use smokescreen
Although ethical spending has doubled in the last ten years and although there is extra limelight on being more sustainable, is it possible that the banning of single use is a smoke screen for most in the restaurant industry? It is hard not to say yes when one considers how less than 7% of the of U.K. restaurants are members of the SRA – the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
It is made even harder when one looks at the waste produced by the restaurant industry. According to the Green Restaurant Association, the average restaurant wastes between 25,000 and 75,000 pounds of food every year with the total amount of waste produced by the U.K.’s food and hospitality sector reaching 1m tonnes according to WRAP. By WRAP’s calculations 75% of that waste is avoidable and the worst offender within that group is the restaurant industry.
Food waste might not seem as bad because you think of it as biodegradable, but when you think of it in terms of manufacturing, packaging (hello again single use), transport and storage, its alarming impact starts to add up. For instance, the food wasted by the UK restaurant industry each year creates the same amount of CO2 as running 400,000 cars.
Now that we’ve begun to look at different factors affecting the environment it is worth noting how single use plastics are a relatively small problem to humans globally. Also, the single use catastrophe is mainly being carried out in Asia. This was proven last year by scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research whose work found that ten rivers discharge 90% of all plastic marine debris and eight are in Asia.
Credit: Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters
But let’s put our single use finger wagging to one side as it appears there are environmental issues far more serious than single use plastics, at least in terms of costs to human beings. Trucost and the United Nations Development Programme have both released data on environmental costs and where plastic litter costs $13bn per year, the cost of overfishing, fertiliser run off and ocean acidification have been estimated at $50bn, $800bn and $1.2trn a year.
Also they found that if plastics were replaced with comparatively heavy wood and metal substitutes, the greenhouse gas emissions would quadruple. To put this into more real terms for the average UK shopper: a cotton tote bag should be used 131 times before it beats a plastic bag in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
It would seem from a macro point of view that the single use problem is simply the cherry on top. Hence perhaps why it has been so easy to tackle. Like an unpleasant cherry sitting on a very unpleasant sundae, it is the easiest thing to extract. When it comes to the layers and layers of other problems, which are all melting together to create a sticky armageddon-sized mess, we don’t know where to start.
The problems are so deeply entrenched and part of our lives. But one part of our behaviour we can change is to stop unnecessary single usage. Also, it is often the way, that after making one change you feel empowered to make another, so even if it is on an individual level and even if it is only a small step in terms of restaurant industry wastage, one has to feel that this is the beginning of something. This is a sea change as it were, because what we put into the sea has to change!
Education, incentivisation and mobilisation. These are the three ‘ations’ that need to be kept front of mind for restaurants and other businesses, as well as governments, schools and communities.
So there! JAMS has spoken. For now anyway. But keep your eyes peeled for our review of Petersham Nurseries, whose sustainability efforts are worth remarking on!
Team Tip – ecoffee make really great reusable coffee cups that are made from one of the most sustainable products on the planet – bamboo. And they look very pretty too!
With previous industrial revolutions there came a bustling high street, but with the latest digital revolution, it’s more a case of businesses going bust. At first it seemed as though only backwards-looking high street shops would suffer. As we have seen recently however, it’s casual dining restaurants that are faltering more and more.
Below we look into why certain restaurants have failed and are failing as well as why certain restaurants have bucked the trend. We will also give our take on how casual dining restaurants can combat the many challenges they face in the hazardous high street environment.
Since the crash in 2009, we have seen a fair few high street shops go under. A steady trickle of the likes of Austin Reed, Jaeger and BHS. Part mismanagement, part failure to adopt a digital strategy and part reduction in consumer spending seem to explain their departure from town and city centres.
This last year, however, has seen a flurry of, not only big high street shops, like House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, Homebase, Mothercare and everyone’s favourite, Poundworld, go into administration or have closures, but also casual dining restaurants.
GBK is the latest to announce it is struggling, having suffered an operating loss of £2.24m in the 22 weeks ending 29 July. Other casual dining chains battling to survive include Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo, Byron and Carluccio’s. They have all had to adopt Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) as a means to manage underperforming sites. While London-based operators, such as Barbecoa, Conran & Prescott, Hummus Brothers and, more recently, Gaucho Group have gone into administration. In Wales, the chain Eat closed its Cardiff branch for the last time as well as numerous stores across the country. They have decided instead to focus on London and transport hubs.
Why these casual dining restaurants?
From competitive capitals to down-at-heel small towns, the collapse of the high street seems to be felt everywhere. Even in affluent cities like Bath, which has its people lamenting the many boarded up and empty windows on show. To stop the city from turning into a complete ghost town, Bath residents have even launched a High Street Fightback campaign. But what are they fighting back against?
Mainly it’s the internet…
The convenience of online shopping (for high street shops) and online delivery (for casual dining restaurants) has made traditional retailers and restaurants have to work much harder for their customer to come all the way into town. Why would the average punter bother when they can get lunch delivered to their office or, to their home, after a hard day’s work? And who wants to go out on Sunday evenings when they can stay in and watch the TV, all snuggled up with a delivery?
So really it’s special occasions and Saturday nights out where casual dining restaurants can clean up. But restaurants can’t survive on those times alone. Therefore, there must be other reasons why the likes of Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s are crumbling.
The economy stupid…
The main monetary fish slapping everyone in the face at the minute is, of course, the B word aka Brexit. Its role is significant in the collapse of casual dining restaurants on the high street. For when the result of the referendum was announced, there was a subsequent collapse in the pound. Not only did this increase the cost of many items on a restaurant’s shopping list, but it also had specific consequences for those such as Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s, whose USP was in sourcing ingredients from Italy. Unfortunately for them, the cost to buy ingredients from Italy sky-rocketed. When coupled with spiralling property prices and increased National Living Wages (which were actually already having an effect post-crash and pre-Brexit) the ability to survive on the high street was seriously under threat. Even more so when taking into account the increase in business rates and VAT; all of which combined to create the perfect storm.
Don’t underestimate location…
What made matters worse for Jamie’s Italian, for example, are the types of space that many of the restaurants occupied. Often large and often listed, these qualities lent glamour to the restaurant chain, but ultimately the rents were not affordable long term. They were only manageable when business was booming. This same problem was faced by a number of the casual dining restaurants currently suffering and falling into administration. For Cau, their choice of location (slightly out of the way) and rapid over expansion were the primary reasons listed for their failure, by Deloitte. When jostling for competition on the high street positioning is important, but this can be circumvented if the offering is unique enough.
Casual dining restaurants like Byron may have started the burger trend, but, unfortunately, they weren’t able to keep up with the exciting variety now on offer. You can check out our review of the best burgers in London here. But finish reading this first! That is, if you think it’s interesting how mid-market chains like Prezzo simply weren’t special enough to hey presto people out of their homes. We’ll look at the ways restaurants can get that extra edge further down. What informs that list however, is an understanding of which restaurants are doing well despite the hazardous environment they operate within.
Buck that trend cowboy…or girl
Amidst the competitive landscape of casual dining (a market which has seen the number of restaurants up by 16% since 2010) some winners have emerged. Nando’s reigns supreme with double digit growth reported and continued expansion in the UK. Wagamama has similarly expanded, mainly overseas, and has also shown significant growth. Then there’s Dishoom with its 47% boost to turnover last year and subsequent decision to expand into a few major cities. Rosa’s Thai Cafe is similarly on an expansion mission after receiving massive investment. But it’s also smaller independents like Mowgli, Honest Burger and Giggling Squid that have found their feet with their street food concepts.
What are they and others doing right then?
We’re glad you asked as we have put together the below list, which suggests how casual dining restaurants can thrive on the high street.
Get busy online, or get busy dyin’ is the basic tenet here. Being able to do takeaway and delivery is really quite essential for a casual dining restaurant on the high street. But there are other elements to being online. See Wagamama’s ‘Uber-style’ payment app, Qkr! for instance. By partnering with Mastercard, Wagamama has made the dining experience much more convenient for casual dining customers, as they can now pay when they like. So they don’t have to wait around to be serviced if in a rush. They can also split the bill. It is these kinds of pioneering details which can make the difference on the high street.
Hit the Spot
Obviously the reasons behind the success of many casual dining restaurants are manifold, but the marriage of tasting and looking great is important. For people to schlep into town they want visual splendour as well as taste sensation. This is where Mowgli and Dishoom really stand out. Their welcoming, yet exotic decor creates an environment which is detailed and luxurious for a casual dining hang out. This gives them the edge to out perform. Of course their delicious food is the real beauty, but comforting surroundings that blend perfectly with the food certainly helps. We are happy to work with clients like Comptoir Libanais, who also lead the field in this arena with their bright, colourful, middle eastern style restaurants that perfectly match their vibrant food.
Mix of services
This is an interesting one based on being experience-led. We all know millennials love experiences…Well, so do most people really. Whether it’s Gen X and baby-boomers sitting pretty in their bought homes or Millennials and Gen Z piling out of their rented accommodation, people do crave community and experiences. So one way casual dining restaurants can capitalise is by offering a mix of services that require a punter’s presence, such as Comptoir Libanais having a souk-style market in their restaurants.
Another leader in this field is Yard Sale. Through a clever partnership strategy they have been able to collaborate with awesome products and people. For instance, bringing over New York chef Anthony Falco (from legendary Roberto’s pizza in New York) to run a series of special events and masterclasses as well as to create limited edition pizzas. Dead Dolls House in Islington does casual dining but it also provides a forum for thought-provoking events, such as Scarlet Ladies UK who talk sex, body confidence & feminism.
The Cosy Club brand may not be big in London but is certainly getting very cosy around the rest of the U.K.. Rather than succumbing to the trap of taking over previously abandoned A3 lots, they have instead been converting former A1 retail spaces. With their great value menu, at the lower end of the price scale, their versatile offering and clever open design, they now have 137 locations and have grown by 25 each year for the past three. The opposite approach has been made by Benito’s Hat who have downsized their restaurants but expanded their sites by offering take away.
Benito’s managing director Mike Pearson said: “The whole beauty of the smaller format is that 80% of our product in our existing stores is taken away. When you can do a 400 sq ft site, the rents are considerably lower but you’re still able to generate 80% of the revenue you would have if you had 50-60 seats.”
Last, but not least…
This is a small and obvious one, but if a casual dining restaurant has an enticing wet offering that can work too. People will come in for one drink after work, but end up having a couple plus some nibbles and maybe even a whole meal! Never underestimate the power of booze for the Great British Public!
The future looks dicy for casual dining restaurants. Especially with the prediction of specialist business property adviser Christie & Co saying they “expect at least another two or three restaurant groups to fall before the year is out.” The sector could wait for the government to bring in the proposed Amazon tax which would help them with rents and overall outgoing costs…But when has it ever been a good idea to trust the government? Not lately anyway. So beware the high street no longer casual dining restaurants; we’ve got your back. Also, did we mention we do PR?
In case you can’t be bothered to make your own and seeing as the weather is more dubious these days, why not try one of our recommendations for best burgers in town?
But first, it’s worth knowing that many restaurants participate in the Mr. Hyde National Burger Day celebrations which offer exclusive discounts. Simply visit the website, fill in a form for your chosen venue and download the voucher to your phone.
We’ve marked the burgers that are part of the scheme below.
Best Burger for Size
If you want a bun and patty the size of a main course plate, then you better head to Smith & Wollensky. Weighing in at 5lb this mammoth burger is eight times the size of their usual burgers and includes a hash brown, roasted Portobello mushrooms, beer battered onion rings, streaky bacon, mozzarella, confit tomatoes, fried eggs and jalapeno sauce.
What’s more you can eat the pre-ordered burger for free, IF you can finish it that is. The only condition of this Man vs. Burger showdown is that only one person may attempt the gargantuan feat. Don’t forget to book and if you would rather watch the madness unfold while eating something more modest you can enjoy their range of new one-off burgers which include: Prawn and Chorizo burger (£15), Dirty-Double cheeseburger (£13) and their Braised Short Rib burger (£13).
Best for Classic Fast Food
When we say classic fast food, we don’t mean you should actually head to Maccy Ds or Burger King, but rather test out the best imitation of those kinds of burger. Except this time they include delicious well sourced ingredients and therefore cost a lot more. But believe us, it’s worth the extra sheckles when you try either of the following two burgers…sorry we couldn’t decide.
First up is Hawksmoor’s Big Matt. No prizes for guessing which burger this is an homage to…yes, indeed it’s your childhood friend, the Big Mac, but this time the patty has been made from the same grass-fed, dry-aged British beef that Hawksmoor uses for its sirloin. Succulent, simple and with two patties, you will be lovin’ it…
Also high on your agenda for simple, classic fast food should be Shake Shack’s signature Shack Burger. The well charred patty gets sandwiched between the more alternative potato roll, layered with a good dollop of American cheese and, to finish it off perfectly, we would order sliced raw onion, extra pickles and a slab of tomato.
Best for Indulgence
Sometimes you want the richest thing on the menu, so you really can’t do much better than Mac and Wild’s Venimoo burger. Not only does it include a hearty patty that is made from Angus beef and wild venison; the mixture of which makes for a beautifully musky, gamey taste, but the burger bulges out of a brioche bun, oozing cheese and the piece de resistance, a waterfall of Bernaise sauce.
This dripping gold goo not only tastes lavish, it looks so as well, which means you can act like the rich kids of instagram when you post your food porn pic to all your carni friends.
A close second for living life on the indulgent side this National Burger Day is the The Patate, which pops up in various locations around London. It eschews the patty in place of a pleasantly unctuous portion of beef bourguignon that sits in a bun inside a camembert box and of course comes with a chunk of melting camembert on top. Oui s’il vous plait!
Best for Feasting
The clue is in the name for this one, as you need to head to Street Feast; Canada Water’s huge indoor/outdoor mega food market. Except you need to head there on Thursday 30 August, i.e. a week after the official National Burger Day. Mr. Hyde and Street Feast have made a clever move here.
By asking all the big burger players to create a one-off special burger for this occasion they don’t detract guests from their restaurants the week before. It’s win win for them and for fans of the humble burger. There will be veterans, newcomers, dessert places and even a vegan debut. Tickets are a little spenny at £15, but you do get an icy-cold Budweiser plus a MacPickleback shot as well as giveaways and games, like Burger Pinata! What’s not to love?
Best for Pork
Bar Bouloud isn’t a burger joint that immediately springs to mind, but then it’s not really a burger joint. It’s a rather classy little restaurant situated in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge and it has a price tag to match with burgers costing between £17 – £24. At the steeper end of the menu is their signature BB burger, which rather extravagantly includes a beef patty, foie gras, short ribs, horseradish mayo, confit tomato and black onion seed bun. While this is a runner up for most indulgent burger, it is obviously not our ‘Best for Pork’ recommendation.
For this, we chose the Piggie, which comes in at a slightly more modest £19. Although when you tuck your trotters in to this exquisitely stacked burger, you’re going to feel like a rich pig in s***. It might not be massive, but it really delivers on flavour because of the addition of BBQ pork. Also accompanying the beef patty you’ll find jalapeno mayo and red cabbage, which sits inside a cheddar bun. It’s just delicious and due to the price, a good one to try for a treat, like National Burger Day for instance…
Best for Chicken
Long reigning chicken supreme are the Chick ‘n’ Sours burgers, which are filled sky high with chunks of ridiculously crisp free-range chicken and slathered with crackalicious sauces. Unsurprisingly, you will make a mess, but thankfully, you won’t care, as this is the best fried chicken in mother-cluckin’ town! Therefore, we advise not taking a date there to avoid your Genghis Khan-got-the-munchies impression going down like a condom balloon. Our favourite is the K Pop – Fried thigh, Gochujang mayo, chilli vinegar & Asian ‘slaw, all for £12 and best enjoyed with their Hunan Cucumbers and Dripping Fries.
Best for Vegans
Now because options are limited for the vegan brigade, we thought we’d be extra kind and throw in two options here. One allows a vegan to go to a restaurant with their omnivorous mates and the other is for going full vegan.
Let’s start with the former as it’s the most inclusive – to humans anyway 😉 – it’s Patty & Bun*; everyone’s favourite hipster burger hang out that makes rather naughty sloppy burgers that leave you looking like you’ve rolled around in them! Luckily for a vegan, they can get the same effect from their Whoopi Goldburger. Inside the bonsoy bun is a tempeh and mushroom fritter which is crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside and when combined with the double-smoked vegan gouda cheese, you get the oozing, stringy hit to the mouth that makes you smile…in a cheesy way.
For a National Burger Day worthy of your vegan crew, we recommend The Full Nelson in Deptford. It might be a schlep for some, but it’s totally worth it for the multiple options on their veggie/ vegan menu. We like things spicy so recommend the Sith burger. The “beef” burger comes with Deptford Death sauce, Sriracha mayo, spicy cheese, jalapenos, onion & more hot sauce, as well as tomatoes, pickles and finely chopped lettuce! Winner, winner, vegan dinner.
*Participating in the Mr Hyde 20% discount deal on selected burgers only.
We hope one of those tickles your fancy this National Burger Day, but if not, let this food & drink PR agency know what you think is missing from our list by commenting below! Also, if you are making your own at home, check out our guide to how best to assemble your burger.
In anticipation of National Burger Day on August 23 we thought we would give you our top tips for assembling the perfect burger; learnt from our MANY trips to the ever increasing burger restaurants around London.
About The Bun
Sometimes the bun is the last ingredient in a burger to get any attention, but in recent years it is finally being treated as more than an edible plate/ glorified patty holder. The added flavour and overall structure it can bring are serious considerations, for those who want to bring their best burger game. So which bun should you buy?
If you are doing things the American way, where biggest is best, then we recommend the Ciabatta roll; its thick crust allows for a sturdy grasp and provides structure for even the juiciest burger. However, it can be too hard, so remember to do the squeeze test in store or at least eat them fresh that day. With an excellent bread flavour, the Ciabatta roll also contributes to the overall taste.
If flavour is your most important criteria then we recommend the brioche. Those Frenchies knew what they were doing when they created the brioche and it mainly involved adding more eggs and butter! By doing so the brioche is slightly richer, sweeter and more dynamic in flavour, but never overpowers the other ingredients. It also makes the bun lovely and soft, but this does not affect the durability as this extra absorbency helps to soak up all the juices.
If you’re a bit of a renegade, but like giving a nod to the past, then you could try an English muffin. We know it might seem crazy, but give this little guy a try and you won’t regret it. Its round shape and sturdy structure makes it quite the neat little treat. You must toast* it first though and why not add an egg to give your burger the breakfast club treatment?
Last, but certainly not least is the Milk bun. Gaining in popularity all over, the milk bun is sturdy so means you can go wild with your ingredients list, but is also light in texture so that it mops up all those juices. This creates a very flavourful experience and one which is considerably more savoury than a brioche, due to the way it is made. However, because of its recipe it is slightly sweeter than a normal white bun and a lot less fatty. Overall we think the balance of flavours in a milk bun is best, but it is always fun to switch the bun depending on what else you’re throwing in…
It is worth toasting whichever burger bun you choose as it makes it much firmer and gives the bun an extra crispness!
Lettuce Call The Whole Thing Off
So now we come to the crucial consideration of how to assemble everything that goes in between the bun. This is where things can get controversial. Remember the debate that raged across the internet when Google released their burger emoji, positioning the cheese beneath the patty, while all other emojis, from Apple to WhatsApp, put the cheese on top of the patty?
Well, if you’re not sad enough to have got involved, don’t worry, because you would probably have said ‘above the patty’ and you would’ve been right. After all, that is how you melt cheese; by putting it on the burger while it sizzles away! Not only do you want to have that cheesy hit in the roof of your mouth so the top of your tongue gets the full experience, but the cheese also holds the other toppings in place.
The ingredient which seems to divide people the most, actually, is the lettuce leaf. Some believe it should be on the bottom, to act as an extra barrier between the burger juices and the bun, while others believe it should sit on top, for pure purtiness. We think the former is certainly a valid option if your burger is hemorrhaging juice, but we would rather recommend the latter, based on the inclusion of tomato.
Tomatoes bring tang, refreshing juice, sweetness and colour to a burger. You’d be mad not to include it and when you do it is best to put the lettuce above it. This way the lettuce is never directly on top of the patty (which is a burger faux-pas as the heat from the patty will wilt the lettuce and make it limp and slimy). Also, having the lettuce on the tomato stops the lettuce from sliding around, especially if you have lots of sauce up there. Another tip here is to put your onion rounds on top of the lettuce to weigh it down. The added benefit of this is how they will also catch the condiments and stop your sauce from spilling out.
So we’ve reached the final furlong; what to put under your patty. First up, it’s the pickles! You nearly forgot about them didn’t you? Well, don’t. They are an extremely important ingredient for bringing an extra dimension of flavour to your burger. However, you are free to include whatever veg you prefer, like salsa, olives, mushrooms. The only rule is that because they are small and irregular in size, they need to go under the patty so they can be weighed down and not fall out of the burger.
Another way to ensure these bad boys don’t fall out is by adding sauce to the bottom bun, but which sauces go where? We believe in dividing them up to avoid it oozing out between your fingers and making a right ol’ mess. Mayo is lighter and more delicate so suits being slathered on the top bun, so we would add our mustard and ketchup to the bottom bun, but we know that some prefer to taste the strong tomato/ mustard flavour first, so swapping your sauces around here is an option.
So there we are. We made it through the gauntlet of which ingredients go where when you assemble your burger. And just to make it super simple for you, here is the order from bottom to top:
Pickles or small extras
Head Chef Tom Cook at Smith & Wollensky London says “Always let your patty sit before stacking to avoid the juices going everywhere. This is because the saturated fats in a beef burger liquify when hot, so if you let the burger cool a little they’ll solidify and stop you dripping juice all over the place.” We wouldn’t be a very good PR agency if we didn’t get a quote from one of our clients now would we?
Now go forth and find your ingredients while we do a sun dance! And in case we’ve had all the sun we’re going to get this summer, check out this PR agency’s review on where to seek out the best burger joints this National Burger Day.