Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead

After an uncertain start to the New Year it seems that the world as we once knew it may finally, if somewhat timidly, be heading towards a cautious reopening of its doors to the rest of the world once again.  This is welcome news for the hospitality and travel industries which have not experienced the likes of the hardships endured during the Covid pandemic since the great depression of 1929.  The financial implications of Covid could take years for some in the food industry to recover from and sadly some familiar names will never get that chance, now resigned to the nostalgia of a bustling high street that once was.  Surprisingly, Covid has also been responsible for a huge increase in revenue emanating from Quick Service Restaurants (QSR), ‘dark’ or ‘ghost’ kitchens, providing the opportunity for new businesses to fill a gaping hole in the market and cater for increased demand in high-end home delivery service.  The question is, will these new businesses remain viable as the high street begins to return to pre-pandemic status in the coming months or will the masses flock back to the freedom and luxury of eating out?

Whatever happens, the immediate costs have been passed on to the consumer with noticeable price increases to menus.  Whilst this can in part be seen as an attempt to recoup lost revenue for the past two years, it cannot be ignored that it primarily reflects huge increases in base food costs.  The British Retail Consortium (BRC) notes an average 4.4% increase in food prices for 2021, the highest since records began and they are set to continue rising.  This is yet another hurdle in what is already set to be a challenging year for the food industry and it will be interesting to see how restaurants adapt to cater for increased food costs at a time when household incomes are lagging and living costs are increasing.  Will these costs continue to be passed on to diners or will chefs be forced to provide cheaper menu alternatives in an attempt to remain budget-friendly?  Indeed, this could be a factor that enables QSR’s to continue thriving; without the overheads of a physical restaurant this could prove to their advantage in being able to deliver an increasingly high standard of food to consumers without having to compromise on budget.

A more simplistic and budget-conscious approach to dining whether cooking at home, ordering a delivery or eating out, prompts us to reconsider the value of food in terms of nutrition, flavour, texture, colour and of course cost.  The challenge is to get as much as possible out of basic products.  With the vegetarian and vegan movement still in full swing we are likely to see more championing of simple products through their versatility with an emphasis on packing a punch through flavour profiling.  Companies such as Besmoke ( https://www.besmoke.com/ ) offer innovative authentic flavour options and the ability to take food produce to a new level of dining at a time when cost and ingenuity are paramount.  Businesses that offer vegan and vegetarian products such as Toffoo (https://tofoo.co.uk/ ) are developing and introducing new and exciting ways of working with meat-free produce into the mainstream market, not as a replacement for meat but as a glorious product in its own right.  Even better, our friends at Toffoo are based in Yorkshire in the UK which embraces another big trend for this year – carbon footprints.

There has been a switch in focus from the complexities of food to the simplicity of food as both industry and consumer seek to tackle issues that increasingly impact us all; namely food waste, carbon footprints and health.  These areas are all closely connected and it cannot be ignored that we all share a vested interest and responsibility in ensuring that our food habits change for the better of our health and our planet.  It is interesting that reducing food waste walks hand-in-hand with reducing food costs at a time when food prices are rocketing and health links with a move toward a more plant-based and less processed approach toward food.  Reducing our carbon footprint as a nation is reflected in all these factors, not least the benefits of keeping food costs down for the longer term if goods have less distance to travel.  Some have suggested that science will play a big part this year in developing alternative ‘farming’ methods such as factory ‘grown’ meat and man-made ‘sea farms’, which will help to tackle many of the issues we face head-on.  These ideas may still be in their infancy and have some way to go before they are viable for the open market but, along with all the other factors impacting food today, could signal the beginning of a new future for food.

Coming up; Steve will be participating in London Kitchen Social (LKS), judging at the Free-From Food Awards (FFE) https://www.freefromfoodawards.co.uk/  and Springboard FutureChef https://futurechef.uk.net/ in February, the Salon Culinaire https://internationalsalonculinaire.co.uk/?lang=en and IFE (International Food Exhibition) https://www.ife.co.uk/ in March and monthly cookery classes are up and running at Braxted Park Cookery School http://www.braxtedparkcookery.co.uk/ .

Info sources: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8866/, https://www.nationalworld.com/lifestyle/food-and-drink/inflation-uk-how-much-have-food-prices-gone-up-amid-2022-cost-of-living-crisis-will-they-continue-to-rise-3536980.

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