We faced many changes and challenges in 2015 relating to food safety and employment, including requirements for child protection, which have needed implementation to ensure we are keeping up with regulations. There’s also been the nicer side of our work: ever-changing food trends. I have written about all sorts of things, from the popularity of Korean pop-up restaurants to allergen legislation. 2015 has given us a lot to think about.
The allergen legislation was probably the single biggest development in our industry for many years and affected everyone from tiny independent coffee shops to expansive restaurant chains. The initial panic has now abated and consumers can happily eat out, secure in the knowledge that they can be aware of the major allergens in their food. Some, in the wider hospitality industry, wrote in a letter to The Telegraph that the legislation constitutes a “fiasco”, a “bureaucratic nightmare”, and will limit “spontaneity, creativity and innovation” in food. It’s not exactly difficult to work out if you’re cooking something containing nuts, cereals or molluscs – I get the feeling that the “bureaucracy” is being inflated. However, our sector is used to a higher level of regulation, probably has more resources and took the whole thing in its stride. Where I do agree is that this European regulation did have significant implementation costs: something governments quickly forget as they move on to the next way of having the employer pay more.
2015 also saw a continued surge in the number of coffee shops and the trend towards ‘artisan’. Items look more homemade and contain more brown cereals. Of course, a look at the ingredients still shows high levels of fat and sugar. Quick cheesy snacks, drinks and small cakes are now in as high demand as two or three course meals, perhaps more so. This grazing has given us the challenge of coming up with ‘on-the-go’ meals that are still full of nutrition. This is no mean feat. In schools, we need to offer students an alternative to what they find attractive on the high street, while sticking to our principles. To do this, we’ve opened our own on-site coffee shops, giving students, staff and, in some cases, parents readily available snacks and a comfortable place for a quick break. If you can’t beat them, join them!
Right now, David Cameron is under immense pressure, particularly by Jamie Oliver, to introduce a sugar tax. In May, I wrote about the increasing amount of sugar in sports drinks. People seem to believe that sugar of any form provides energy and results in improved athletic performance. In reality things are far more complicated. Diabetes in children is on the rise, and so now is certainly the time to start providing students with a more nuanced understanding of nutrition and metabolism. For the greatest success, we have to start with younger children and with everyone working together. Teenagers think they are indestructible and we could do with a few role models to talk about a healthy diet and what ‘moderation’ means.
As the economy improves, we should find the impact of the national skills shortage gathering pace. This is already driving up salaries. Despite our industry raising the issue since the early 1990s, to my knowledge, almost nothing has been done by successive governments to provide good quality trained skills in an industry that has continued to grow through the economic downturn. I am hoping for a new year’s resolution that someone will listen. In the meantime we, like our fellow caterers, invest in developing skills and take the brunt of decisions to focus on university degrees that don’t lead to jobs and leave our young people with a hefty debt.
Well, that’s me for now. I am off my soap box and off to prepare for the delivery of 14,021 lbs of potatoes, 1,719 lbs of sprouts and 2,579 lbs of carrots – enough to serve 45,500 Christmas lunches!
Sue Parfett, Brookwood Partnership, W: brookwoodpartnership.com
To look back at any of Sue’s catering insights from 2015 visit ie-today.co.uk/Search/Brookwood