There was much fanfare and promise surrounding the government’s announcement that a voucher scheme for restaurants was to be introduced. “Eat Out to Help Out” will give diners a 50% discount, up to £10 per head, across the month of August. The Chancellor promised that the scheme would protect 2.4 million staff at over 150,000 businesses, and earmarked £400m to be spend on vouchers. However, this one-size-fits-all approach does not necessarily deliver on all of its promises. Smaller independent businesses may struggle to benefit from this voucher scheme.

This week, the registration page went live for businesses to sign up to the scheme. To be eligible, a business must sell food for “immediate on-premises consumption”. But takeaways, pop-up stalls, markets, and food halls may not be eligible because they share outside seating areas, or don’t have any seats at all. So traders at HATCH, GRUB, and open-air markets around Manchester may have to wait and see if they can take part.

Additionally, during lockdown, many small food and drinks business switched to providing takeaway services. While larger chains have mostly struggled to respond to the changing demand, small businesses were able to change their processes quickly. These businesses now face the difficult decision to either resume their in-house service – and to put in place all of the necessary safety measures – or else risk losing out on the voucher scheme.

Small businesses face a further challenge. The voucher scheme only applies on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But lots of smaller, independent businesses close on Mondays and Tuesdays, to give their staff time off after working all weekend. If people are choosing to eat at the bigger chains on those days, small businesses may well lose out as a result of this voucher scheme.

The voucher scheme also only applies to food and non-alcoholic drinks, and not to alcohol. The number of pubs and bars has long been in decline, with 15% lost in the past decade. And 70% those surviving bars do not serve any food, meaning that their ongoing battle for survival will not be getting any easier.

Businesses of all kinds are facing rising costs as they begin to open again. Social distancing rules mean reduced capacity; extra cleaning supplies and safety screens need paying for; employees will be spending more of their time cleaning; and businesses may need to hire more staff so that they can provide table service. All of this puts real financial pressure on independent businesses.

Despite the majority of people being keen to support their local businesses, there have been some major teething issues for restaurants and cafes re-opening. In Manchester, Gusto lost £6,000 in one day when almost 300 diners failed to show up for their bookings. Volta saw several no-shows, as did Kerridge’s Bar and Grill. In fact, an estimated 25% people with online bookings fail to honour them.

In response, a campaign has launched in Manchester using #NOMORENOSHOWS to demonstrate support for the city’s food and drink sector, and to encourage people to show up to their bookings. The campaign has had support from the likes of chef Tom Kerridge, Manchester Confidential, and Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s Night Time Economy Adviser. The wider hospitality industry has also been vocal in its support.

In addition to the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, the government announced that VAT for food (both eat in and takeaway) will be cut from 20% to 5%. The impact of this has been almost immediate, with chains including Starbucks, Wetherspoons, McDonalds and Nando’s announcing price drops. However, smaller businesses needing to recoup their losses will be looking to keep their prices steady and absorb those savings.

Putting this message across to a bargain-driven public will be a tricky task for our small businesses. Already, chefs and managers are sharing stories of customers ringing ahead to request a discount, even when the business hasn’t offered one. Impatient diners have been leaving poor reviews of places that, perhaps not surprisingly given the circumstances, have offered a less than impeccable service. Perhaps more than discounts and headline-grabbing tax cuts, what our food and drinks businesses really need is goodwill and empathy.

It’s clear that the big winners from both the voucher scheme and the cut in VAT are the large chain restaurants and cafes, while smaller businesses will struggle to compete in the face of rising costs and cut-price competitors. Now, more than ever, we need to continue supporting our local, independent businesses. How? It’s simple.

Show up. Pay your bill. If you can, leave it a tip. You can even re-book, if you feel like it.

Back in July, in one of its ‘Long Read’ pieces, The Guardian asked ‘Is fair trade finished?’ It’s a fair question (pun intended) as Fairtrade International will be marking 25 years of the familiar Fairtrade ‘mark’ in October this year. The blue and green logo is ubiquitous in our supermarkets on everything from chocolate and coffee, to flowers and cotton pads, and has become visual shorthand for easy, ethical shopping without having to think too hard about it. Fairtrade sets social, economic and environmental standards for both companies and farmers and workers. For farmers, the standards include protection of workers’ rights and the environment; for companies it includes the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price plus additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.

The long read: Is fair trade finished?

The Fairtrade Foundation is a UK-based, non-profit organisation and registered charity. It is a member of Fairtrade International, formerly known as FLO – Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International. Fairtrade Foundation license the use of the mark in the UK and Fairtrade standards exist for the following products: 

But what about products that aren’t certified?

Fairtrade relates largely to crops grown in the global south, so understandably home-grown produce is never going to hit the mark in that respect. As conscious consumers think about climate change and environmental impacts, is it in some sense ‘better’ to buy Fairtrade roses from Kenya or tulips from the UK? And what about products made using some Fairtrade ingredients, but which don’t get the mark because they are not 100% Fairtrade certifiable? There has been some disgruntlement amongst campaigners about the treatment of stalwart fair trade organisation Traidcraft UK over a labelling issue and use of the mark.

The Fairtrade Foundation has recognised the dilemma and is trying to deal with it through the introduction of various programmes. Rather than focusing on all the ingredients in a final product, highlighting specific commodities mean companies can still highlight their Fairtrade credentials. Somewhat more controversially, they have also starting working directly in Fairtrade Partnerships, where companies are developing their own sustainability schemes. The most prominent of these is the Cocoa Life partnership between Fairtrade and the Cadbury brand under Mondelez. 

Commodity specific programmes

Fairtrade or Fair Trade?

At this stage, it’s worth pointing out the difference between ‘Fairtrade’ and ‘fair trade’ – and it’s not just a question of spelling and semantics. If Fairtrade is based on commodities, then the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) defines fair trade as ‘a trading relationship, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.’ So, in essence, fair trade deals with production and manufacturing processes and there are other organisations offering certification, usually based on WFTO principles. In the UK, BAFTS (British Association of Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers) is a great example of this. A network dedicated to promoting fair trade, it provides a structure of accountability to its members, based on peer-to-peer assessment. 

Realistically, the casual shopper doesn’t actively consider the difference between fair trade and Fairtrade when picking up their groceries, so it would seem the two approaches are mutually beneficial. The Fairtrade mark certainly has high recognition among UK shoppers. But this distinction leaves a grey area open to manipulation by big business. The Co-op, Waitrose and Sainsburys are some of the biggest corporate supporters but as the Guardian article points out, in 2017 Sainsbury’s announced its own-brand teas would no longer be Fairtrade certified and instead it was piloting its own ethical certification, ‘Fairly Traded’. There were fears this would lead to an abandonment of more products but the negative publicity Sainsbury’s attracted seems to have halted any further extension of the new approach. But critics of Fairtrade may question how different is Sainsbury’s ‘Fairly Traded’ from the Mondelez Cocoa Life approach it supports. 

These are not the only businesses moving away from independent certification. Not to directly accuse anyone of green-washing, but it’s undeniable that corporate culture is taking heed of the evolving sustainability concerns of consumers and using it to sell products and services. There is marketing capital to be gained from telling your own ethical story, in your own terms – more so than relying on an individual logo on the side of packaging. Fairtrade also has to compete with the Rainforest Alliance frog, which is the standard for Tesco and Morrisons bananas rather than the mark. 

And the next 25 years?

So, in the run up to the 25thAnniversary, where does this leave Fairtrade? The Fairtrade Foundation’s response to The Guardian article was perceived as somewhat tepid by campaigners. Whether Fairtrade, fair trade or fairly traded, the efforts to make life better for farmers and workers in the global South are attempting to engage with complicated economics and big business. It is a complex and nuanced system, not easily explained or, it would seem, easily changed.

The Guardian article has been a catalyst for discussion in Fairtrade groups, and perhaps it is a way to redefine the argument and link in more effectively with the broader environmental concerns. In the final analysis, the omnipresence of the Fairtrade mark in our supermarkets cannot be underestimated but it is not enough – and the Fairtrade Foundation recognise that they cannot work in isolation. The ethical shopper who is much more engaged with diverse and wide-ranging sustainability arguments will seek to make more nuanced decisions – and even then still not be sure that they are doing the right thing – but looking for the mark is a good start. But for the time-pushed and budget-constrained, they can make quick choices and still feel they are doing the right thing when buying their tea and coffee, chocolate and bananas – and on balance, a lot of people making small changes can be more effective than a few people making big ones. 

Check out the Fairtrade Foundation website or if you’re interested in this subject

blog written by Alison Gray, FoodSync

Here at FoodSync we’ve spent some time reading and digesting what the experts, pundits and tastemakers have to say, and here’s our summary of what’s happening, which areas are undergoing consolidation and what’s emerging on the food and drink scene.

When Trends Become a ‘Thing’…

For us, the most obvious trend is the persistence of trends that have already emerged, but which are evolving and developing into the new normal. For instance, take the growth of veganism. Exact figures are hard to pin down, but a quick Google search shows that in 2018, the media were reporting rises of between 360% and 700% in the UK. That is interesting in itself, but combined with a general shift towards eating less meat overall, even for the most hardened meat-eater, that marks a very definite change in attitude.


The reasons are varied – environmental concerns and ‘clean eating’ to name just two, but with The Guardian reporting research from Waitrose stating that 21% of people claim to be flexitarians, combined with rising numbers of vegetarians and vegans, means that around a third of UK consumers have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat, or have removed it from their diet entirely.[1]


Another trend we predict will stick around through 2019 and beyond, is the rise and rise of gin. 2018 saw several of the big players launch flanker products. Following on from Gordon’s Pink in September 2017, Beefeater Pink was launched in February 2018, and Tanqueray launched a Flor de Sevilla version in April with a lovage version in May. This would seem to be a response to the more niche, craft products created by artisan distillers. It also chimes with a growing appreciation for bitter flavours such as the Negroni and new tonics also coming on the market. It’s fair to say that gin is becoming (ahem…) a bit of a ginstitution.


The all-pervasive influence of social media, but especially Instagram, is resulting in some unintended consequences. It’s become a factor when designing interiors in the food and drink sector, and menus are becoming more ‘insta-ready.’ There’s a BBC Radio 4 Food Programme on the topic which is worth checking out – ‘How Instagram Changed Food’[2]– if this topic interests you. And we think it should.


With research showing that 16-24 year olds drink less alcohol than previous generations, there is move toward ‘grown-up’ teetotal drinks and mixers. That includes tea-based drink kombucha which is now starting to pop up on supermarket shelves, and which ties in nicely with another key trend for all things fermented.


The Attenborough Effect

In our opinion though, the biggest trend to emerge in 2018, and which we think will continue to exert a strong influence on customer behaviour, is what we’re calling ‘the Attenborough Effect.’ The move towards sustainability has been customer driven in the wake of the Blue Planet II, with ‘single-use’ cited as the Collins Dictionary word of the year. In their ‘Food and Drink Report 2018-19’, Waitrose term this ‘the Mindful Consumer.’ It’s also been evidenced in discussions about the ‘Latte Levy’ and the drive to eradicate plastic straws.


Will this lead to a revival of seasonal, local British produce?

Trends are one thing, but what about the uncertainties? The challenges facing retailers on the high street will continue to have a wider impact. The rise of tech means that people can stay at home watching NetFlix eating a restaurant-style meal brought to them by Deliveroo or Uber Eats. The future of the high street and bricks and mortar destinations is by no means secure. Perhaps more importantly for our supply chain and food security, at time of writing, Brexit is looming  large and no matter what your personal opinion on the matter, it has undeniably created political turmoil, with a spicy side-order of economic uncertainty. Prices will likely rise, and there may be food shortages. That’s a subject the food trend forecasters seem to have given a bit of a swerve.


[1]The Guardian, 1 November 2018


Alison Gray got her crystal ball out and looked forward to 2019. Her New Year’s Resolution is to eat less meat, use less plastic, stop worrying about Brexit and be less of a cliche. 

How does what we eat affect climate change?

The IPPC report on Climate Change made headlines around the world for its uncompromising stance: there’s only 12 years left for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5c.[1] A few days later, the journal Nature published a widely-reported article, specifically about the food system as a major driver of climate change.[2]

Food production causes damage to the environment as a result of greenhouse gases from livestock, widespread deforestation, water shortages, the creation of ocean ‘dead zones’ with little or no oxygen, but particularly the rise in coastal dead zones as a result of fertiliser and sewage run-off.[3]

In such circumstances, it’s easy to feel despondent: our governments and lawmakers driving us to despair with inaction and disagreements; manufacturers and big business with the endless drive for profit. But, the experts agree: there is no simple, single measure to tackle the profoundly complex issues we face.

On a personal level, it’s overwhelming. There’s so much that needs to be done, and it all seems beyond our reach as individuals. However, if we agree that it’s better to do one thing than nothing, then there is one thing the experts say we can do which will help – and that is eat less meat and less dairy. In fact, in western countries we need to eat 90% less beef and 60% less milk.[4]And what are we going to eat instead? The experts recommend we should eat five times more beans and pulses, as well as more nuts and seeds.

“We tried to stay with the most conservative one of these which in our view is the flexitarian one, but even this has only one serving of red meat per week.”

Dr Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford, one of the authors of the report said, ‘’You can go from a diet that has small amounts of animal products, some might call it a Mediterranean based diet, we call it a flexitarian diet, over to a pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan diet – we tried to stay with the most conservative one of these which in our view is the flexitarian one, but even this has only one serving of red meat per week.”[5]

So, there it is: a stark but clear difference we can each make on a personal level. I’m not a vegetarian (sssh! don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I struggle to hit my 5-a-day) although I am actively trying to change and to make better choices. In terms of food, that means thinking about what I eat in terms of climate change, as well as considering other factors like budget, lifestyle and health.

I can’t call myself a flexitarian just yet, but rather than having one deliberately meat-free day a week, I’ll make the effort to have two. Perhaps I’ll try to schedule a consciously vegan day, because if I’m honest with myself, sometimes what happens now is that I substitute dairy for meat (hello cheese! hello eggs!) I will make the effort to try out some new veggie recipes, and to shop and cook more imaginatively.  And while I can’t quite pat myself on the back for my eco-credentials, it’s a start and that’s something we all need to do.

Alison Gray started working at FoodSync in September 2018. She founded and managed her own coffee shop in Stockport, working there for four years, and prior to that worked in governance and risk management in the financial services sector.

Want to work, want to employ; accessing benefits, recruiting and retaining staff – the prosperity conundrum.

A couple of weeks ago I heard Ingun Borg, Principle Research Officer from the Department of Work and Pensions, talk at the Eating Affordances and Decent Helping conference in Sheffield. I thought I was fairly well up on multi-agency work and the dynamics involved in the labour market. What a novice I proved to be sat there in the audience! Universal Credit and its impact is far reaching and has the ability to threaten or offer-up economic opportunity, depending on how well it is understood and implemented across the board – right from the public sector through to industry. There are jobs (hundreds of them) out there in Greater Manchester in the food and beverage sector alone. Surveys carried out by local housing associations show it is the number one area young people want to work in. But what if they have families? And why, if we have ready and willing people and employment opportunity, does there feel such a stalemate?

Could this be due, in part, to the change from ‘in-work’ benefits to the Universal Credit system, the new way of bringing together and simplifying the benefits system?

In-work benefits have now been swallowed up by the Universal Credit system, the new in-work ‘conditionality’ now links to working hours and is likely to affect around 1 million workers. In order to claim Universal Credit, individuals and their partners have to comply with an earnings threshold in order to receive their payments, and this forms part of their ‘progression’ contractual obligations. In essence, the government wants people to earn more and is pushing for upwards progression, out of dependency.

Claimants have various options to try and satisfy this; ask for more money for the same job, ask for more hours, get a better paid job or seek alternative/additional employment with more hours. This leads to more insecure work and can prove very tricky for families to manage. Families have to become better and better at operating and functioning, developing household strategies that enable them to be able to live and work, getting ever more complicated with more employers and more ad hoc working (due to factors such as zero-hours contracts and working multiple jobs). These strategies have a knock-on effect on their families and wider social networks. Grandparents, neighbours and friends who act as childcare, logistics providers and extended carers are all impacted.

The importance of these local social networks in enabling employment entry and sustainability cannot be underestimated. For lone parents this is even more tricky with the whole family involved to enable the parent to provide for their family. ‘Household coordination points’ and infrastructure of everyday life such as the ability to access a car, utilise or afford breakfast/after school clubs or simply being in the locality of your employer all determine where and how many can work. This all serves to put added pressure on the workers and ultimately employers need to be able and willing to accommodate this challenge in order to be able to access the full spectrum of today’s labour market.

Around two-thirds of Universal Credit claimants are in work. So when planning the next recruitment drive for living wage staff on zero-hours contracts maybe there won’t be quite so many CVs landing in employers’ inboxes. Will the tide shift, whereby large corporate organisations have to support their staff on an individual basis at local level, finally be picked up through new HR strategies? And will we see more and more over 50s seek to provide this necessary buffer, leaving work prior to national state pension age in order to support their own families’ childcare needs? What will be the economic trend look like, the health and social care burden? Looking at whole systems approaches, this blog started on the back of being able to afford to eat or being able to access food of an adequate nutrition and ended with ageing badly for those most disadvantaged. Not through our usual direct cause and effect route, such as diet-related ill-health but something far more complex and ugly.

Interested in hearing more?

Let’s have a conversation