Nick Mosley explores some of the food, drink and hospitality trends that will be making waves in 2021. [This story first appeared in The Argus in December 2020].
Meat isn’t what it used to be
Last year, lab grown meat was merely a tabloid click-bate story but as we enter the roaring Twenties there is no doubt that the slaughter of animals will be replaced by the wonders of science – and Brighton is likely to be one of the first champions of these products in the UK.
As the globe faces climate change – significantly contributed to by the meat industry in terms of deforestation, water pressures, food crops used for animal feed – the mass production of meat protein grown in factories is inevitable. Now this isn’t the same as vegan ‘meat-free’ products that you already see in the supermarkets; its is actually grown using an original animal cell using many of the same tissue engineering techniques used in regenerate medicine.
From many quarters, there is currently an understandable squeamishness in eating lab grown meat but as it becomes more common, yet it may be preferable to the grim realties of intensive meat production to many of us.
Farm to bottle quaffing
‘Sustainability’ is on the lips of everyone at the moment, not least the drinks industry.
The Arbikie Distillery in Angus on the east coast of Scotland is at the fore. As a longstanding farming family, the Stirlings have created a range of premium spirits using produce grown in their own fields.
“Our Nàdar gin and vodka are revolutionary products”, said Miriam Watson, Arbikie’s London and South East business development manager. “They are the world’s first climate positive spirits, distilled from peas that aren’t suitable for the supermarket shelves. Each bottle has a carbon footprint of -1.5kg which is pretty unique in the world of spirits”.
In Brighton, local distillers are also becoming increasingly eco-conscious. Brighton Gin drops off locally to both businesses and consumers using their fleet of cycles, including an electric bike for those hilltop deliveries!
The Kids are Alright
When it comes to environmental and social consumer choices – and political action –, younger generations tend to be at the fore.
Personal choices clearly go beyond personal diet; for example around 15% of the UK population now identify as either vegetarian or vegan. Younger consumers are more likely to make ethical choices when it comes to consumption. Does the restaurant I’m buying from pay the living wage? Is the food I buy from this retailer ethically sourced? Are animal husbandry welfare standards high? Is this beer made from organic grains? Is my electricity produced from renewables? Does this business support the local community?
With Millennials feeling disenfranchised from jobs, higher education and the housing market, the businesses that succeed in the future will be those that match their offering to the world-view of their target consumers.
Have you experienced the Dark side?
Covid-19 has been devastating for many hospitality businesses, yet there have been opportunities for those light-footed enough to adapt and even a smattering of start-up businesses. With bricks-and-mortar businesses closed, this has been driven by home delivery and click-and-collect, which in many ways has created a new and more sophisticated marketplace with greater choice and variety.
The likes of Deliveroo have operated ‘dark kitchens’ for a number of years, under the brand name of Deliveroo Editions. Essentially these facilities allow established restaurants and start-ups the opportunity to share an industrial space from which to prepare and despatch their food. These locations are typically away from town centres and located closer to residential suburbs. Lockdown has also created further opportunities for chefs to quietly use the facilities of restaurants that are currently closed.
“Reconfiguring the use of kitchens is key to the future in this current climate”, says Olivia Reid, food director of Sessions Market who operate the new Shelter Hall on Kings Road in Brighton. “Its a case of maximising potential from underused kitchens and teams of chefs and acquiring smaller spaces to solely focus on delivery”.
“There has been growth in dark kitchen concepts but sprouting from Shelter Hall and other food market projects Sessions Market have launched an accelerator programme, a scheme designed to give small operators a chance to 'rapidly scale' through delivery while providing a new revenue stream for established hotels and bars, and maximising their working kitchens and team in this new mixed food experience territory”.
Food poverty in the UK has been a distressing trend for many years, which many of us find astounding in one of the world’s richest economies. The likes of the Trussell Trust and FareShare – both of which are supported by surplus food gifted by supermarkets and wholesalers – have seen a massive increase in demand from end users in 2020, whether emergency food parcels for individuals and families or weekly supplies to volunteer groups supporting disadvantaged people in our communities.
Shockingly, 149,000 emergency food parcels were handed out by the Trussell Trust from April to September this year in the south east of England alone, primarily driven by low income levels.
With more people losing their jobs – or simply unable to earn an income due to the fall-out of lockdown on small business owners – unfortunately the rising trend for the need of food banks is likely to be with us throughout 2021.
Plenty more fish in the sea
Fishing was championed by the UK government as one of the key ‘taking back control’ sovereignty sticking points in Brexit negotiations with the EU, although it now sounds that banging the drum for British fishing was more of a red herring to rile the French, Dutch and Belgians.
Some would argue that there have been historical issues about quotas and the flagging of factory boats, but fundamentally much of the catch from the bountiful waters around the British isles isn’t to the conservative tastes of UK consumers who err on the side of culinary caution and prefer white fish such as cod and haddock, much of which is found in the cooler waters of Norway and Iceland. Our resident oily fish and premium shellfish that is harvested by both small boats and industrial operators tends to head to European markets where there is not only demand but also a premium price to be had.
Thankfully, a zero-tariff deal on food and drink has been agreed at the eleventh hour, so although there will be additional paperwork and hygiene checks on fish – and indeed, meat and dairy – ‘just in time’ exports of fresh seafood to the continent will continue, and in return we won’t lose out on our fish fingers.
The ‘Bye’ Street?
Even before we’d heard of Covid-19, the UK high street was already showing signs of change and decline. Commercial vacancy rates in Brighton have risen from 5% to 8%, which sounds bad but compared to the national average of 13%, means the city has – so far – got off pretty lightly.
Hospitality has clearly been one of the worst hit sectors of the UK economy with both big names such as Jamie Oliver, The Restaurant Group – operators of Frankie & Benny’s – and Carluccio’s all being high profile victims of tightening margins, changing consumer habits and the wider economic fall-out of lockdown. Sadly, Brighton has also seen the closure of independent restaurants and bars, with huge fears of what the current Tier 4 lockdown will bring, particularly for small ‘wet’-led pubs who may already have called last orders for good.
"Brighton and Hove has always been a place where visitors – and residents – have sought out an experience, be that a delicious meal, a trip to the theatre or a night on the tiles”, said Gavin Stewart, Chief Executive of the Brighton Business Improvement District. That hunt for a unique encounter is what brings people back to our city time and time again. How we look at our city centre spaces will need to change to incorporate more of that 'fabulous' if we are to maintain our position as the south coast premier destination. Empty premises will need to be activated somehow, and used by pop-up restaurateurs, artists or makers, creating for a showcase for everything that is inimitable and fresh about our city”.
“Things will change, but watch this space, Brighton and Hove isn't done yet.”