Irish food and drink exports to the UK remain buoyant, despite pandemic

Exports of Irish food, drink and horticulture to the UK were held to a marginal 5% decline in 2020, despite a period of unprecedented change and challenge. The figures, taken from the annual Bord Bia Export Performance and Prospects report 2020/2021, show that exports for 2020 were valued at €4.3 billion (v €4.5 billion in 2019) The pandemic saw the largest disruption to normal market operation, including continued uncertainty around Brexit and towering pandemic challenges which saw the closure of the UK foodservice market. Launching Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects 2020/2021 report, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Charlie McConalogue, revealed that the overall volume of Irish exports fell marginally by 2% in 2020, valued at €13 billion (v €13.2 billion in 2019). The UK remains a primary export market for Ireland. In 2020, 33% of Ireland’s total food and drink exports were destined for the UK. 33% were destined to international markets outside the UK and EU, while 34% were destined to the EU27. The UK remains the core market for Irish horticulture and cereals exports, and exports to the UK increased 8%, valued at €207 million and accounting for over 90% of global exports which was €221 million, up 8% from 2019. The primary constituents of this export mix are mushrooms, primary cereals and amenity horticulture. The UK represented 44% of primary Irish beef exports – extensive retail channel demand somewhat counteracted the significant decline in foodservice and held a 1% decline to €836 million. Overall, the value of primary beef exports was held to a 2% decline to €1.9 billion in 2020. Primary pigmeat exports to the UK increased by a notable 3% to €177 million in 2020. The live export sector experienced growth in 2020, up 11% to the UK and valued at €107 million. COVID-19 brought significant headwinds for poultry export prices and the sector was impacted by a 14% decline in exports to the UK. The pandemic and the closure of the UK on-trade has had a significant impact on alcohol exports to the UK, down 12% in 2020, to €199 million. Although dairy continued its global growth trajectory into 2020, exports to the UK were down 13%, to €831 million. Significant decline in UK foodservice and Brexit contingency planning were contributing factors. “It is really positive to see that Irish exports to the UK remain strong and resilient during this period of uncertainty,” Donal Denvir, Bord Bia General Manager, Great Britain. “Bord Bia has been working tirelessly to support food and drink suppliers in Ireland through the impact of the pandemic and Brexit. “Notwithstanding what the future brings, the UK will remain the largest single destination for Irish food and drink exports as we continue to navigate challenges in 2021 and beyond. “Our geographical proximity, shared language and shared cultural understanding ensure that the UK will remain a key strategic partner for Irish food and drink exports.”

Nichols re-launches Feel Good Drinks

Nichols has re-launched Feel Good Drinks, a sustainable purpose-led range of flavoured sparkling waters with a 100% natural new drink formulation in plastic free packaging. Born out of recognition of the opportunity in the market for natural, great tasting drinks with no added sugar or additives, the brand will be run in the style of a start-up as part of Nichols. The range of 100% natural fruitful canned sparkling waters have been created using no artificial flavours, added sugar or sweeteners and contain 15% real fruit juice. Available in three variants; Peach & Passionfruit, Rhubarb & Apple, Raspberry & Hibiscus, the range contains less than 27 calories per 330ml can and is available to purchase from Ocado, Booths, WH Smith Travel and via feelgooddrinks.com. As well as the new drink formulation the re-launch aims to hero a new brand concept committed to sustainability and boosting the wellbeing of the world. This has been brought to life via the inception of the ‘3% for People and Planet Fund’ – whereby Feel Good drinks will give 3% of sales to charities and non -profits that support personal and planetary wellbeing. Feel Good General Manager, Ed Woolner, said: “In a century of rapid technological and industrial growth, humans have somewhat forgotten how fragile the natural world is and how much we rely on it for our wellbeing. “The Feel Good 3% People & Planet fund is our way of giving back, we know we are taking raw materials from the planet, but by donating and partnering with charities that support personal and planetary wellbeing we hope to help protect the natural environment that gives us so much.”

Aldi scraps plastic shrink wrap on own-label multipack soft drink cans

Aldi has become the first UK supermarket to stop using plastic shrink-wrapping on its own-label multipack soft drink cans. The UK’s fifth-largest supermarket has replaced all plastic on its soft drink cans with 100% recyclable, FSC-certified cardboard, saving over 90 tonnes of plastic each year. The move will mean that nearly 11 million packs of Aldi’s 330ml cola, orangeade, lemonade and tropical drinks will switch to packaging that’s widely recyclable throughout the UK. By the end of this year, this will have rolled out across all own-brand beer and cider products too, saving over 150 tonnes of plastic annually. This is one of many packaging changes Aldi has introduced as it works towards an ambitious target of halving the amount of plastic packaging it uses by the end of 2025. The supermarket already sells its Explosade sports drinks, Red Thunder energy drink multipacks, Fruity Blast and Fruity Water drinks all in cardboard wrap. Richard Gorman, Plastics and Packaging Director at Aldi UK, said: “Removing unnecessary plastic is a top priority, which is why we’ve committed to halve plastic packaging by 2025. “The move away from shrink wrap on our canned soft drink range is another step in the right direction. We know our customers want to protect the environment, and it’s small changes like this that make all the difference.” Aldi said it is on track to have all product packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by the end of 2025.

New guidance launches for low and no alcohol labelling

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WTSA) has produced new guidance around the labelling of low and no alcohol drinks, as a record number of Brits explore low and no products. This guidance has been produced in partnership with the WTSA’s Primary Authority Trading Standards Partners, and at the behest of both retailers and producers. With the popularity of the low and no alcohol category at an all-time high, and January traditionally seeing efforts by consumers to cut out or cut down on booze to start the year, drinks producers are developing new and innovative techniques to provide consumers with more choice and greater quality. The latest data from the WSTA Market Report shows that overall alcohol sales are down compared to the same 12-month period last year. Wine and beer sales have dipped and overall, spirit sales are flat. Wine, the nation’s most popular drink, has seen a 5% decline in sales despite the boost in online deliveries. Many new products on the market are produced to closely resemble their alcoholic counterparts – they are closer than ever before – in taste, aroma and appearance – to the spirits and spirit drinks they are providing an alternative to. The new guidance aims to establish acceptable legal names, marketing text and general labelling requirements for low and no alcohol drinks. This will help ensure clarity and certainty for producers that they are labelling and marketing their products in the correct way. It also looks to boost confidence for consumers in the category, helping them make informed purchasing decisions through clear, accurate, and consistent labelling – which had been retailers’ over-riding concern and motivation for asking the WSTA to offer advice that can be applicable UK market-wide. The new guidance applies to low and no alcohol drinks that are packaged and marketed as a substitute or alternative to spirit drinks and is designed to complement existing – and any future – Low Alcohol Descriptors Guidance produced by the Department of Health and Social Care. “There has been a huge amount of innovation and product development across the low and no alcohol category in recent years. Confusion – for producers and for consumers – led to a request of the WSTA to pull together comprehensive advice,” said WSTA Chief Executive, Miles Beale. “Along with our Primary Authority partners, we have produced this new guide to help both producers and consumers.”

CPI and Syngenta develop purification methods for novel crop protection

CPI, a tech innovation centre and founding member of the UK Government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult, has completed its collaborative project with agriculture company, Syngenta, to develop purification methods for novel crop protection products. To help ensure food security, there is a growing need for new and innovative crop protection solutions with a focus on sustainability, helping to ensure that farmers can feed the growing population. After a previous successful collaboration, Syngenta approached CPI to develop scalable purification methods for a new product. The project took place at CPI’s facilities in Darlington, UK, using its state-of-the-art downstream processing suite. CPI used its robotics platform to screen different conditions to optimise the process. There were several challenging aspects of the project. CPI’s expertise in downstream processing, as well as its wealth of cutting-edge capabilities, allowed these challenges to be overcome, resulting in the successful development of a robust purification method. CPI and Syngenta will continue their collaboration and will begin work on a further project to progress the new method to a larger scale.

PepsiCo pledges net-zero emissions by 2040

PepsiCo plans to more than double its science-based climate goal, targeting a reduction of absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions  across its value chain by more than 40% by 2030. In addition, the company has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, one decade earlier than called for in the Paris Agreement. Specifically, PepsiCo plans to reduce absolute GHG emissions across its direct operations (Scope 1 and 2) by 75% and its indirect value chain (Scope 3) by 40% by 2030 (2015 baseline). This action is expected to result in the reduction of more than 26 million metric tons of GHG emissions or the equivalent of taking more than five million cars off the road for a full year. “Climate action is core to our business as a global food and beverage leader and propels our PepsiCo Positive journey to deliver positive outcomes for the planet and people,” said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta. “ Our ambitious climate goal will guide us on the steep but critical path forward — there is simply no other option but immediate and aggressive action.” PepsiCo’s sustainability strategy, informed by science-based measures and cost-benefit analysis, focuses on the areas where it can have the most impact, while creating scalable models and partnerships for accelerated progress across the full value chain. The company’s emissions target aligns to the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge and has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative as the most ambitious designation available through their process. Its action plan is centred around both mitigation, reducing GHG emissions to decarbonise its operations and supply chain, and resilience, reducing vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change by continuing to incorporate climate risk into business continuity plans. With operations in more than 200 countries and territories around the world and approximately 260,000 employees, the company’s emissions reduction plan will be comprehensive across priority areas such as agriculture, packaging, distribution and operations. “Our climate ambition is at the very heart of accelerating our global sustainability progress, and we are using our scale and reach to build a more sustainable and regenerative global food system,” said Jim Andrew, Chief Sustainability Officer, PepsiCo. “It’s long overdue that companies move beyond just minimising their environmental impact, they must actively work to improve and regenerate the planet.”

EFSA deems mealworms safe for humans, paving way for EU-wide approval

Mealworms have been deemed safe for human consumption, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a new opinion that will pave the way for the first EU-wide approval. The opinions, which include the first completed assessment of a proposed insect-derived food product, are a key step in the regulation of novel food, as EFSA advice supports EU and national decision-makers who authorise these products for the European market. Ermolaos Ververis, a chemist and food scientist at EFSA, coordinated the first adopted opinion on insects as novel food. “Insects are complex organisms, which makes characterising the composition of insect-derived food products a challenge. Understanding their microbiology is paramount, considering also that the entire insect is consumed,” he said. Various insect-derived foodstuffs are often heralded as a source of protein for the diet. “Formulations from insects may be high in protein, although the true protein levels can be overestimated when the substance chitin, a major component of insects’ exoskeleton, is present. “Critically, many food allergies are linked to proteins so we assess whether the consumption of insects could trigger any allergic reactions. These can be caused by an individual’s sensitivity to insect proteins, cross-reactivity with other allergens or residual allergens from insect feed, e.g. gluten. “It’s challenging work because the quality and availability of data varies, and there is a lot of diversity among insect species.” There are additional non-scientific reasons why the novel food work is challenging. “The flood of applications is a significant workload and meeting the deadline for assessments is sometimes tight, particularly if applications miss essential scientific data,” said Helle. “But, the collaboration between the experts is stimulating and it is rewarding to know that we are contributing to keeping our food safe.” The novelty of using insects in food has led to high interest from the public and the media, so EFSA’s scientific assessments are essential for the policymakers who will decide whether or not to authorise these products before they can be put on the EU market. Giovanni Sogari, a social and consumer researcher at the University of Parma, stated: “There are cognitive reasons derived from our social and cultural experiences, the so-called ‘yuck factor’, that make the thought of eating insects repellent to many Europeans. With time and exposure such attitudes can change.” Mario Mazzocchi, an economic statistician and professor at the University of Bologna, said: “There are clear environmental and economic benefits if you substitute traditional sources of animal proteins with those that require less feed, produce less waste and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. “Lower costs and prices could enhance food security and new demand will open economic opportunities too, but these could also affect existing sectors.” EFSA’s scientists will continue to evaluate the many novel food applications in their ‘to do list’, and the decision-makers in Brussels and national capitals will determine if they should be authorised for the European dinner plate.

Tyson Foods to expand Wright Brand Bacon Plant with $26m investment

Tyson Foods is investing $26 million to expand production at the Wright Brand Bacon Plan in Vernon, Texas. Scheduled for completion by March of 2021, the expansion is expected to create 32 new jobs, bringing the total employment at the plant to more than 800. “This project is great news for our plant, our community and our customers,” said Dane Bonfy, manager of the Wright Brand plant. “We love the Vernon community and look forward to growing our team with the additional positions and meeting the growing demand for our products.” The bacon category has seen volume growth, up 18% since 2017, with new people entering the category and existing buyers consuming more bacon, most recently due to an increase in at-home meals. Surpassing category growth during this same time period, Wright Brand has increased volume by 29% as more buyers are introduced to the brand. The expansion is expected to satisfy current demand and allow room for additional growth. Tyson Foods and its family of companies operate 10 food processing plants in Texas, employing more than 12,000 team members and paying more than $480 million in annual wages as of the most recently completed fiscal year.

Cereal Partners UK launches Organic Honey and Chocolate Cheerios

Cereal Partners UK (CPUK) has launched the first organic product for Cheerios made using organic hoops from five organically-farmed whole grains, and chocolate cereal pieces. All ingredients for the Organic Honey and Chocolate Cheerios are sourced from farmers following organic farming practices and displays CPUK’s signature green banner indicating whole grain is the number one ingredient. Toby Baker, Regional Marketing Director UK and Australia for Nestlé Cereals, said: “Given that £200m a month is now spent on organic food and drink in the UK, it’s clear that sustainably conscious consumers are looking for products that are good for our planet. “This growing interest has intensified during the pandemic, with many families placing greater emphasis on leading better lifestyles, focused on wellbeing and sustainability. “As a business, our promise is to make breakfast better as well as doing our bit to help protect the planet. Our breakfast cereals already come in packaging specially designed for a lower environmental impact with cereal boxes that can be easily recycled. “The launch of Cheerios UK’s first organic cereal is yet another milestone in our own journey, which will also help meet growing consumer demand for organic products.” As well as launching its new organic product, Cheerios UK has also announced a new partnership with The Bee Friendly Trust, a charity dedicated to creating habitats for honeybees and pollinators to help them thrive. Through the partnership, CPUK will support the protection of the UK honeybee population, whose natural habitats are increasingly in danger. Cheerios UK will be raising awareness of The Bee Friendly Trust and its work by providing opportunities for families across the UK to join CPUK in helping to protect vital feeding grounds for bees.

Mars UK to remove a million miles a year from roads with £350m sustainable logistics operation

A new, multi-year partnership between Mars and DHL will see the construction of two state of the art warehousing facilities and the creation of a world class logistics operation. The new sites, based in the Midlands and East London, represent an investment of £350m and have been designed with sustainability at front of mind. The project will reduce Mars’ outbound logistics carbon footprint in the UK by 7.7%. The buildings themselves will be partially solar powered and rated in the top 1% of non-domestic buildings in UK environmentally. Mars UK transport over 1.2 million pallets of their products every year – which, if you stack those pallets on top of each other, is the equivalent of shipping the height of Mount Everest every other day. The new logistics operation will remove a million miles a year from roads – which is 40 times around the world or 8,547 times around the M25 – all while increasing warehousing capacity by over 50%, ensuring that Mars is well positioned to keep pace with increasing consumer demand and deliver their portfolio of products to future generations. Tim Walker, Supply Chain Director at Mars UK said: “Our partnership with DHL will deliver a world class logistics operation that is sustainable, smart and agile. What is good for our business is also good for the planet. This project is a meaningful step in our sustainability journey as we look to create the world we want tomorrow – which we know starts with how we do business today.” Jim Hartshorne, Managing Director, Retail & Consumer & Ireland, DHL Supply Chain said: “We’re delighted to be extending our global partnership with Mars in the construction and management of these sites. Our shared environmental commitments are supported by this investment and we are creating long term, exciting jobs in both of these communities. This project will be the foundation of the UK logistics chain for Mars for many years to come and we are incredibly proud to be selected to lead in this project.” The two purpose-built depots, ‘East Midlands Gateway’ and ‘London Thames Gateway’, will be operational in the spring of 2022 and 2023 respectively. The sites will have a combined square footage of over a million feet and they will both have state of the art high bay facilities which include innovative automated pallet storage.