Saturday, 16 February 2013

Horse Sense!!

Whose fault is all this anyway?

Procurement Managers to Procurement Directors to Operations Directors often make purchase decisions in fast food restaurant chains to Retail based businesses not on customer trends, needs or ethical reasons but on costs, logistical ease a weighted pricing strategy.

When it comes to food, the decision of product choice often comes via chefs’ steering committees, business development groups, NPD (new product development) departments or new product development directors. Often these days through brokers, agents or manufacturers BRC rating. The negotiation of suggested costs and pricing is often left to the procurement team. The ingredients and menu planning to Executive Chefs or tasting committees.

Sometimes these decisions may warrants a visit to the manufacturer by often semi qualified personnel, quite often not. Most often the manufacturer has a development chef also creating so called masterpieces. Here again, the real food ingredients are never mentioned or discussed, accepted as the norm as the taste or price seems about right, so will fit the menu and required GP (Gross Profit) This cost approach is especially true in bakery products from muffins to flapjacks but even more so in sauces and ready- made meals from stews to lasagne. So, who really asks the important questions like what’s in the product, where did it come from, what were the farming techniques and, more importantly, what additives and/or preservatives or additives or E numbers are in this range? The answer is very few, if at all.

This has recently been proven not from the recent poor quality protein source (ala the horse vs beef scandal) but will spread and be proven across all manner of products bought for consumer consumption.

If you are a pub group, a pizza chain or a coffee shop selling sandwiches then the issues are surprisingly even more important to address.

In Gina Mallet’s book, ‘Last Chance to Eat’, she asks important questions, “What’s really in this product?” is a good start. As an example she askes “ Which chef/ consumer in the UK knows what Alar treated apples are?” or for that matter, that the cooked by-product of alar, unsymmetrical dimethylhyrazine (UDMH) is mildly carcinogenic. Alar is a chemical hormone which is sprayed on apple and pear trees to stop the fruit falling prematurely from the tree thus limiting bruising, waste and increasing yield., highly toxic, so no longer the apple tart is not as humble as apple pie.,

When the Hotel says take an apple from the reception basket for your journey, think twice!

In the ready meals to massed produced bakery range, the business of the ingredient origin and the safety of the mix of chemicals in these products is an issue;

We then have the problem of identifying the ingredients into categories of the “the good, the bad and the ugly.” In any restaurant or Retails ingredients the prepared ingredients co exit in unison as “the good, the bad and the ugly”

The EU gives us guidelines for all ingredients. In fact, all additives, preservatives and natural enhancers are given an E identification number. For example, E-106b is used extensively in the baking industry; For the uninformed, it is difficult to know whether this is a good, bad or an ugly ingredient. In fact, E-106b has a real name that is Annatto or Norbixin. It is a yellow colouring extracted from the tropical shrub Bixa Orellana. It is used to colour cheese, dairy products and most baked goods. It is far from a “baddie” but because it is listed as E-106b you could read into this as a consumer as a suspicious ingredient as consumers tend to do with all E numbers.

As a consumer, if you check with the FDF (now here are 3 letters very few Procurement chaps will know about), The Food and Drink Federation ( is the protective voice for the manufacturing industry. You will not find it easy to navigate to the list of what the E numbers stand for nor will you find it easy to determine what ingredients such as Annatto are used for. Nor are you likely to easily find information on the wide use of E numbers in manufacturing, but it is there.

So why is this information rarely used by the Catering or Retail trade?

I was recently having a discussion with an Executive in an NPD role in a pie manufacturer for a major hotel group. You can imagine just how aghast he looked when, in discussing the use of salami (Dutch salami) in the pizza on his menu range, I asked him if he knew what chevaline is or rather was and whether he realised that 60% of Belgian and Dutch salami and 30% of Italian salami is chevaline (horse or a horse/donkey mixture of meat). I bet the salami in your branded restaurant has some horse in it I suggested.

Interestingly, horse meat contains 27% protein as opposed to beef with only 21%. Horse meat has only 5.7% fat compared to beef with 12%. Horses do not catch foot and mouth disease, BSE or even tuberculosis. Horse meat is 75% cheaper than beef. In Switzerland and Spain the dish Fondue Bourguignon is appreciated and loved, it made of cubes of horse meat deep fried in oil and served with aioli. We have recently been told those same cubes of meat are sold in some Bourguignon ready meals in the UK. So again yet again an ingredient within the good the bad or the ugly category (depending on your thinking or love of certain animals)

So, whose fault is it anyway that this industry is an absolute minefield to monitor. As catering chains and especially pub groups demand lower food prices with quick microwavable results, who is left to care about what drives the shelf-life or what colours are in the products that are purchased in Head Offices and passed to consumers?
Clearly if ground clay roof tiles can be added to paprika (recently found in Romania) and pork can be mixed with halal chicken (Prison food) something has to done to monitor our food chains.

Certainly the procurement teams from these chains have little knowledge and perhaps even less interest in totally traceability. Add to that the so-called procurement experts, many who run procurement advisory companies and who are more concerned with GPs, cheaper logistics and winning contracts, than food ingredients and this is where the problems are escalated. It’s not so hard to see how the industry has ended up in disarray. Like the supermarkets, restaurant chains are driving down costs, the buyers working for or on behalf of chain restaurants have the same goals. Even more so in these difficult times with little responsibility re health or those questions over origin or the E numbers re additives, preservatives or taste enhancers.

If you are reading this over a bacon sandwich (E252, E251, E200, E235, E101) and a cup of tea just pause a moment to think about what you’re really enjoying, especially if you are using one of those jiggers of milk most often found in hotel bedrooms these days because they contain carboxymethylcellulose (E466) which is made from wood pulp, no less, to help stabilize fat molecules and often carry a trace amount of toxins, just to add to that morning cuppa we all enjoy

So, whose fault is it anyway? Certainly it is not only Procurement /NPD Departments who are faced with the need to find solutions to menu fatigue, resolve tight kitchen space and address faster food as a solution to massive skill shortages. The manufacturers are trying to fit NPD to a demand for deskilled ready meals, easy to prepared par baked products. The supermarket chains are seeking reduced cost. Then we have logistic companies who continue to demand longer shelf- life products with less waste. Can you see how this cycle is perpetuated?

I know of one chain of pubs in the 2 for 1 entrĂ©e market that considers kitchen capex nothing more than a bank of microwaves regenerating frozen or long shelf-life chilled cuisine. It’s no wonder that E is not for “European” coding of food ingredients but instead E is for “Extra” Profit, deep now in the ideology of so many food manufacturers and their subsequent buying teams..

Now take a deep breath (E948 = Oxygen, by the way) and count to E1520 (the highest E number on the EU scale, propane glycol) and thank God you have a choice do we

In these days of reduced personal income, discounted restaurant vouchers, and consumers eating habits and international food consortiums, spare a thought for the chemists and the horse!

Enjoy your ready meals everyone.

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