Food Poverty and malnutrition – manufacturers to blame again?

 

"Let 'em eat Aldi Crisps!"

“Let ’em eat Aldi Crisps!”

 

There’s an article on the BBC Website here it is highlighting a report by the Faculty of Public Health which has identified a link between food poverty and malnutrition. 3rd world health conditions like rickets are being seen in hospitals for the first time in decades and last year there was a 17% increase in hospital admissions for malnutrition. Now I am sure I am not alone in thinking that whatever your place on the political spectrum this is an absolute disgrace in a country like the UK. I’m waiting for the inevitable ‘It’s the food manufacturer’s fault’ interviews. I’m surprised that at no point does the reporter link food poverty to obesity, for which the industry is also blamed.

Increasingly those in poverty have issues affording nutritious and fresh food. In Aldi you can buy 30 bags of flavoured crisps for about £2-£3 depending on where you are in the country. If you are trying to feed a family of 4 on £25 a week then this sort of offer is very tempting. Obviously there is fresh food available but one thing you never read about is the cost of preparing the food. Yes, you can buy a kilo of lentils for £2 and yes it is nutritious and will do several meals but you also have to boil those lentils for 40 minutes. That’s 40 mins of gas or electricity. On top of this, have you tried to get a 4 year old to eat dhal? When folk are so skint their main issue when buying food is to make sure no one is hungry and that often leads to 30 bags of crisps going into the trolley. I wonder how many of those who judge the diet of the poor so harshly have had to live on the income of the poor? Recall, with amusement, the well meaning but utterly unrealistic campaign that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched in 2007 when he campaigned against the mults to get them to stock properly bred, free range chickens rather than the mass farmed thai type. Yes, he had some really good points – a quality chicken bought from a butcher will taste fantastic, it will probably last more than 1 meal BUT it costs £10. It is easy to see why his arguments fell on deaf ears and became archaic when, a few months later the Great Recession hit with full force.

Time and time again it is the food manufacturing industry that gets the flack about obesity for making food that has too much salt and too much sugar etc. when the real culprit is poverty. Cheap food has always been highly flavoured, there is nothing new here. French Cuisine is sauce and flavour based because historically, the quality of their meat and fish wasn’t up to much and hence it needed flavour. Your Georgian Briton would sneer at the French and proclaim the excellence of British beef which didn’t need such flummery. It is wrong to blame the food industry for these issues, processed and preserved food was always only meant to be part of a diet and to be eaten when fresh food was not available. Aldi don’t expect you to live off crisps. The real issue is the price of fresh food and with the increased competition from emerging markets it is unlikely to drop in price rather than blaming the industry we should be focusing on making fresh food more readily available and cheaper to cook.

This sort of information used to be provided by Ministry of Food films and perhaps it should be again as it is a matter of education around what to eat, how to buy it and how to prepare it without it costing the earth. My grandfathers both grew their own vegetables and some fruit as well. How many of us, with access to some space do this? Yes, to the educated person those public information films were cause for amusement but they did carry important messages. You cannot assume that your values are those of others and you cannot assume that people understand the harm in liquidising a hamburger for a baby. But there is no point in increasing availability unless you back this up with how to cook it and the benefits of doing so. Food programmes are hugely popular but many of them are food porn – yes Mr Roux that dish looks fantastic and how much would I like to eat it, however, I’m just going to shovel another forkful of Asda lasagne down my gullet because it was £3.00 and I can feed the whole family on it and I’ve had a 12 hour day at work so in the grand balance of things, given the ready meal costs about the same as the raw ingredients to cook, am I going to delay dinner by 90 mins whilst I prepare the lasagne or am I going to bung this Asda special in the microwave? Convenience food was and always was meant to be a stopgap, however we have filled the time it saves us in preparation with other activities, and in a time of fiscal pressure, that is usually work. So the convenience food is now a necessity.

It’s obviously easier to get the message across in centralised economies. In Cuba they understand this and the power of educating people. Fuel has always been an issue and over the last 30 years the emphasis has been on saving fuel and especially in cooking. So the Cuban government made cheap pressure cookers available to all households. It is simple arithmetic, after a hard day of Stakhanovite labour on the collective farm those lentils that take 40 minutes to boil can be cooked in 10 minutes in a pressure cooker. Extrapolate the arithmetic, the majority of Cuban households have pressure cookers, the saving in fuel and carbon emissions must be huge. Now I remember a pressure cooker being used by mum in the 1970s, they were popular before the advent of the microwave but how many of us use them now. I only learned about the advantages of using one by listening to the Radio 4 Food Programme last year. I work in the industry and I didn’t know this – what chance do others have unless lucky enough to have caught the programme.

In our house we recently invested in a Halogen oven, a device that sips the leccy. Together with a microwave and a pressure cooker we now only use the main gas oven perhaps once a week and our power bill has gone down considerably. Halogen oven = £30, Pressure cookers start at £12.

So please, let’s not have a pop at the food industry for these issues when the real culprits are poverty and the lack of education as well as the culture towards food that we have allowed to emerge in this country over the last 30 years.

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The importance of back to basics networking..

In recent years I have moved from working in a large corporate entity to a role where the necessity for day to day contact with colleagues has been replaced by social media/video conferencing etc. Living and working 300 miles from my colleagues at head office can be challenging and when you focus on national or international business rather than local business opportunities for face to face contact with other professionals can be limited. If you are not careful you start staring at the wall and talking to yourself!

This is why, as well as working with Cotterell & Gifford, I also spend about 10-15% of my time working on local projects with local businesses which rarely have anything to do with my primary industry specialisation. Part of this is motivated by my strong belief in involving myself in the local business community. Since we made the decision to move from urban, Edinburgh to market town, Hexham this is far more in your face. Yes, I could buy my printer paper from Viking but then again, I could pop round the corner to the PC Support shop and buy it there, it might be 5p more expensive but, if that PC Shop closes I’ll be the first to moan about the shops all becoming bookmakers and charity shops. If I want to live in a town with a thriving center, a strong economy and decent property values etc then it is my duty, as an inhabitant of that town, to ensure that I use my expertise and purse for the benefit of the local area.

The other part of my motivation is that getting involved with local client and businesses when you are a self employed consultant is a good way to stop getting cabin fever!

This morning I attended the Willow Wednesday Breakfast  networking event organised by NorthEastBiz. Now, obviously, being home based I am used to a 15 second commute – a shuffle with coffee from the kitchen to the corporate hub of my home office so this was daunting. I had to be 40 miles across Northumberland by 8.00am. Fortunately my choice of egalitarian transport, a 30 year old Volvo 244 decided to start and I made it in good time. I am very glad that I did. I met several people who I will do business with at some point in the next 12 months, of that I am sure and one of whom we are already discussing forming a strategic partnership which will benefit my main, national business occupation. On top of this, the injection of enthusiasm and the energy of like minded individuals is infectious and it gave be a good dollop of drive to counter the “August – no one’s around” blues.

In this era of in bound marketing and social media it is easy to ignore traditional business networking. However, groups like NorthEastBiz are doing superb work in facilitating these networking opportunities.

Even if your main occupation is interim management or highly specialised, there are always businesses and organisations locally that could benefit from your experience and, OK, whilst you will probably not be able to charge your full rate, you won’t be diluting your brand either and the wins are far more than just on a fiscal level. I would recommend getting involved with your local business networking groups to anyone who is self employed or running their own business even if you doubt that it will help, it’s amazing what you can find on your doorstep.

local

Don’t ignore opportunities with local businesses, you can be surprised what you can find on your doorstep

 

 

What are the consequences of the rise of the discounters for coeliacs and others requiring a special diet?

Most Sainsburys Sausages contain gluten

Most Sainsburys Sausages contain gluten

Our daughter, 5 years old, has coeliac disease. For those of you who don’t know what that is, coeliac (spelt celiac in American English) is an auto immune disease where the body attacks itself when gluten from wheat, barley or rye is eaten. The amounts of gluten that can provoke an attack vary from patient to patient but we are talking small amounts. A grain of flour is usually enough. When she was diagnosed we had to learn how to cook without gluten, we shifted our main carbs in the family to rice and spuds and separate cooking utensils, toaster, pots and pans, cutting boards and cupboards were needed. We are fortunate to have a reasonably large kitchen and keep a section of it totally gluten free. I used to bake all the family bread, now we only bake gluten free cakes and biscuits, the risk of aerial contamination from traditional four is too high. Consequences of provoking the disease are unpleasant for her and for us. Pain, illness, explosive vomit and diarrhea. Prolonged exposure results in weight loss, swollen abdomen, deficiencies in minerals and vitamins, pain, depression, mood swings, stilted development. There is assumed to be a 1% incidence in the UK population, however, diagnosis rates are much lower.

We had to learn how to shop again. Gone was the weekly trip to Sainsburys, we now had to track down the gluten free products we needed to buy from different stores. Not only to the shops carry different products but they don’t have consistent ranges from store to store. One Tesco may have a superb range of gluten free frozen products whereas another may not stock them at all. It makes the whole experience very tricky. It’s not just limited to specific ranges but to all sorts of items. Read the ingredients of many products and you will find they contain wheat, barley or rye gluten. In Sainsburys all own label sausages apart from the Toulouse ones seem to contain gluten. In Tesco it’s the opposite. Own label table sauces and ketchups frequently contain gluten as a thickening agent, Heinze Tommy K doesn’t. HP Sauce is a no no, Red Lion is fine etc etc.

In our town, Hexham, Northumberland, we are fortunate to have quite a choice of retailer. In addition to good market in the square every week there is a large Tesco, Aldi, and good mediums sized Waitrose, M&S and Iceland. 5 miles away is a Sainsbury, 20 miles away a huge Asda. Our shopping habits are usually – Aldi for 75%, Waitrose for 25% with fruit and veg coming from the market, when we are around, and dog food AND gluten free products coming from Tesco. Aldi is hopeless for specific gluten free products, although most of their own lable products are gluten free. Waitrose can be good but our store isn’t. So when we want to buy gluten free fish fingers, pizza, chocolate bikkies, croissant, chicken nuggets etc we go to Tesco. (Wait a minute, we shouldn’t be feeding our kid junk food – of course we don’t but in the real world time constraints and special teats mean that on occasion the kids do get pizza and why shouldn’t she be allowed to enjoy what her brothers and friends are eating?)

I do have a concern here. The average big 4 supermarket carries 30,000 different products on its shelves. The average discounter (Aldi/Lidl) carries about 1500. The discounter’s business model is to carry own label brands and to buy up and shift on quickly surplus branded products, hence the open pallet and cardboard boxes you see in the shop floor. Their own products are sold across Europe and benefit from a cultural lack of using gluten as a thickener/binding agent (remember the British Banger war Jim Hacker got into in Yes Minister?) However, stocking specific gluten free versions of food containing gluten is far removed from their business model. The big 4 have become community services, with dry cleaners, banks, insurance, clothes, chemists, and post offices they sought and seek to be everything to everybody. One of these services is to dedicate shelf space to specific free from foods giving those who suffer from food allergies and auto immune diseases as wide a range of ambient and frozen basic and luxury products as possible. They have been getting good at it and with the investment companies like Tesco, Genius and Warburtons have made in their gluten free ranges in the last 5 years we know that we can always get out hands on a loaf of fresh gluten free bread in a reasonably sized supermarket. This was never the case 5 years ago. Now whilst these products are considerably more expensive than normal products and you never see BOGOFs or discounts on them, the smaller turnover of them means that they won’t be large profit makers and the high cost of the ingredients and production means that they are expensive for the retailer to buy or make and are very unlikely to offer the potential margins that a discounter will be looking to make. Despite the increase in availability I’ve already mentioned that ranges stocked are not consistent across stores but it is improving.

Over the last 12 months, all the big 4 with the exception of Asda have seen a drop in their profits. An estimated £3billion less has gone through their combined tills during that time and has been spent instead at Aldi and Lidl who have seen sales growth of over 30% for the former and over 25% the latter. Meanwhile the big 4 are caught in a price war, with each other and with the discounters. They continue to slash prices of electronics, clothes etc to try and tempt back customers as they are unable to compete with the discounters on food and grocery. All this is having a knock on effect on suppliers who will be increasingly squeezed to cut costs, NPD etc. Analysts are concluding that this is now a fundamental change in retain behaviour by the British consumer and that gone are the days of the big weekly shop – people are now asking if the hypermarket be a sustainable model in the future?

As a customer who requires to buy gluten free products I’m concerned that not only NPD but also the availability of off the shelf gluten free products may well suffer. Ironically, more customer choice in terms of price will lead to less customer choice in products. It’s not as simple as transferring our loyalty and our 75% from Aldi to Tesco either, as I have already mentioned, only very rarely do Aldi and Lidl own label brands contain gluten in the ingredients. We can pretty much put anything in our trolley without having to read the ingredients to see if gluten is lurking in there. This isn’t the case at the big 4 but if we want to buy specific free from products we have to go to Tesco as whilst Aldi stocks gluten free bread and some products, the range and quality varies. (Gluten free bread, unlike wheat bread, has a huge variety in price, taste, quality and consistency from stuff that you could sole a shoe with to almost un noticeable from the real thing). If the continued rise of the discounter leads to the inevitable conclusion of big 4 closing stores and cutting back on ranges, off the shelf choices for those who require these foods will become less and less available. New product development, requiring subsidising from other ranges could fall when the financial pressure is felt. Aldi and Lidl are starting to stock these products.

glutenfree lidl

Lidl Ireland’s 2013 Gluten Free Promotion

As already mentioned, Aldi carries a bread and in 2013 Lidl stores in Ireland had a large gluten free promotion and published a booklet. It will remain to be seen if the discounters start stocking large and comprehensive quality ranges of free from fresh, ambient and frozen products. To me it seems so removed from their business model I cannot see it happening rather, those requiring a reliable supply of these products will have to resort to web based specialist retailers and won’t be able to pop out for a packet of biscuits of a quality loaf of bread. If this isn’t the case, I would be very interested to hear from Aldi or Lidl about why it isn’t and what we could look forward to.

The end of the UK Big 4?

big4

In the last 12 months we have seen a fundamental shift in the retail food sector in the UK. With the big 4 losing £3 billion in till receipts and the discounters seeing phenomenal growth, industry analysts are announcing a tectonic shift in the FMCG market in the UK. How is this going to affect our industry? Is this a threat or an opportunity?

Inflation hasn’t been followed by wage packets. Our economy is growing but our earnings aren’t. For years in the UK the consumer was happy to purchase from an increasingly smaller pool of suppliers. In energy and banking our options are limited, competition is nonexistent, anger and frustration rife, the only  recourse the consumer has is government backed industry enforcers. Mrs Thatcher, love her or hate her had one thing right when she identified two biggest threats to individual freedom being big government and big business. By big business she meant companies that were so powerful they totally dominated their markets killing choice and competition. The reality of the credit crunch has changed consumers, whilst their options in banking and energy markets are limited, the one sector where they can show their new muscle is in their grocery bill and flexing them they are. Is our sector becoming the whipping boy for the frustrated consumer?

In the last 12 months £3 billion has left the tills of the big 4. Consumers are far more cynical, their shopping habits have moved from the convenience of a big weekly shop at one store, a new breed of canny shopper has emerged. Worryingly, for the big 4, there is evidence that the professional classes are now leading this anti-consumerism; the basics are bought in discounters and the luxuries in Waitrose and M&S. A recent Channel 4 Despatches Documentary last week identified this trend and anger in consumers who, rightly or wrongly, feel that they have been ripped off by the big 4 for years. Those doing a one stop weekly shop are now seen as wasteful, it’s fashionable to be canny. It’s a fundamental shift; probably the biggest in the last 20 years and it shows no sign of slowing down or changing.

So, what does this mean for those of us who work in the food manufacturing sector? Is this an opportunity or a massive threat? Whatever it is, the speed of the change will have huge implications.

Are our business models fit for purpose?

The average big 4 superstore has over 30,000 products on its shelves, the average discounter, 1,500. What does this mean for the manufacturer? Our business models have been honed to service the demanding buyers of the big 4. Customer auditors have lorded it over our factories. The demands of the big 4 have been brutal and the level of control such that they have been able to effectively dictate to suppliers for years. We all have war stories of how the big 4 have enforced their demands. The problem is, that we have, through necessity, complied with these demands. This has created models that are ideal for servicing the big 4 but with the disintegration of their power, how relevant are they for the future? The consumer seems to want basics that are more basic and luxuries and fresh that are local, have provenance and high quality. Those suppliers wholly dependent on big 4 supply contracts could be in for a very nasty time.

 

The big question is, what can we do about it? Are our businesses sufficiently savvy and fleet of foot to cope with the changes in the market?

 

 

Is the Grocery Conduct Authority toothless?

Rick-Pendrous_dnm_author_pict

Very interesting article by Rick Pendrous here: http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Regulation/Retailer-watchdog-calls-on-suppliers-to-raise-complaints In other words, who is going to put their head over the parapet first? Christine Tacon has a very good point here but is she being unrealistic in requiring several sources of complaints at once? All suppliers, no matter what their size are affected by the lack of competition and the dominance of the mults in the UK market I recall a speech that Robert Schofield, formerly of Premier Foods gave in 2010 when he said that the only advantage size had when dealing with customers (this was when Premier was the largest UK supplier) was that Tesco took the nail out of the cricket bat before they hit you with it. The high levels of competition for supermarket business mean that suppliers are unlikely to share their woes with competitors, much of which would involve divulging confidential commercial information. Expecting aggrieved suppliers to check with each other before submitting abuse complaints is naive. However, how else will these abuses come to light? Morrisons were recently rumbled – coining a phrase to describe consequences that is almost Hooverian in tone – that suppliers who had complained would not necessarily have suffered any ‘negative consequences’. Mike Stones  “Morrisons slammed for breaching the groceries code”, Food Manufacturer. Mrs Thatcher, love her or hate her, had one thing right when she said in a conversation with Maurice Saatchi that she regarded what we now call globalisation and lack of competition the greatest threat to freedom behind huge government. Successive governments have failed to address this. I have some sympathy with Christine but at the end of the day, are industry watchdogs like the GCA, FSA, OFCOM etc. sticking plasters which will never be effective in curing the fundamental underlying problem with much of our economy, the chronic lack of competition?

Improve your Linkedin profile it is your key to your next assignment

the world of the Interim Manager you hear all the time how vital it is to keep your Linkedin profile up to date, problem is many of us don’t know where to start and lack the time. Those of us who started their careers without a computer can be especially challenged by this. Increasingly the service that most ‘recruitment agents’ use to find interim managers is LinkedIn. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important for everyone, in particular professional interim managers to ensure that their Linkedin profile is not only up to date, but contains information that will allow the recruiter to find their profile quickly and also allow them to ascertain how relevant the profile is for the role they are hiring for. Now, when I was an interim manager I was pretty bad at keeping my Linkedin profile up to date. You know how it is – when you are looking for a contract you are on Linkedin all the time (as well as all the relevant ad sites) when in a contract, work and life seems to take over and we become less than diligent in updating and checking our Linkedin account for updates. Linkedin is a movable feast, in the 10 odd years I have been a member the site has changed hugely and it continues to change and develop. One of the things that is changing is that your position in Linkedin searches no longer relies solely on the number of key words you have in your titles and profile etc. Increasingly your participation in regular and relevant online activity is rewarded with increased profile. Therefore it is vital that you respond to blogs (starting with this one J) and consider contributing your own content as well as logging in regularly and giving your profile as much attention as your tomatoes. For some, this will require a major change in the way they look at Linkedin. Linkedin is your online presence, it is even more important than a CV and therefore it is vital that it contains the information that allows you to be found by recruiters and others in your sector. I’m not saying this to make my life easy, but rather to increase your profile within your area of expertise. I don’t view Linkedin as social media and neither should you, the very word social implies non-professional, leisure-time etc. Rather see it as your primary tool in securing your next assignment.

Here are a few tips

  • Ensure your profile and experience reflects not only what you do but what you want to do and contains key words
  • Ensure your profile has your name – Initials don’t work, yes, in the old days of Linkedin when the world and their dog could contact you it did help to restrict spam BUT these days you need to be standing out.
  • Don’t EVER attempt to elevate your Linkedin position by filling your profile with key word lists. If Linkedin find an account like this they will simply delete it with no warning
  • Ensure you log into your Linkedin account at least once a week when ON ASSINGMENT and every day when off assignment, hirers will be using Linked in to contact you about work so ensure your smart phone has the app installed and is activated. If you don’t have a smart phone, get one
  • Start to interact with others, keep it professional, no stupid photos or non related humour – pics. of your cat and kids are for Facebook, keep it that way
  • Ensure you have a photo, don’t make it too cheesey and formal (like some of our American cousins) but also don’t make it too informal, people don’t want to see your sweaty body on the beach or in some mid-life-crisis-extreme-sport-activity (yes I know my photo makes me look like a beachbum – I will be changing it)
  • Consider starting to contribute to topics you read
  • Consider starting to post relevant content to your skills set
  • Consider paying for a Job Seeker or Premium account, I would recommend this, and no, Linkedin aren’t paying me for saying this. It makes you more visible and extends your reach.
  • Be careful with your network, If you are an Interim Food FGM then ensure that your network reflects that and is peopled by those in your industry and sector, don’t accept every invitation just because someone wants to connect, if your profile is right then the right connections will start to come to you

These are a few starting points some of which will take you 5 minutes and will seriously increase your likelihood of being found. There are many other things you can do and should consider doing and this is just a starter. These points are relevant for anyone on Linkedin but are particularly important for the Interim Manager. Invest time in this, it is essential. If you are really stuck then there are always those who offer can offer you professional help.

If you would like more advice on this then please feel free to get in touch.