Thinking

7 reasons why 2017 was a good year for ethical food innovation in Britain

28th December 2017

Meet the ethical food innovators who took it upon themselves to change how we eat, drink and shop in 2017.

#SquareMileChallenge is one solution to the mass misconception that disposable coffee cups are recyclable. Image: Hubbub.

2017 sent us some worrying signals. Cheap, chlorinated chicken could find its way to the UK. Large scale poultry plants were exposed for their fibs and deceit. Much-loved chocolate manufacturers ditched Fairtrade status. Supermarkets showed disappointing responses to the growingly dangerous use of antibiotics on livestock.

You get the point: headline news in the world of food elicited little more than doom and gloom. To spare us complete despair, here are a few stories that will have you feeling a little more optimistic as we head into 2018.

UK’s first ultra-sustainable cocktail bar lands in London

ethical food innovators 2017

Doug McMaster and Ryan Chetiyawardana of Cub. Image: Xavier D. Buendia.

Cub, a new restaurant-bar in Hoxton, is the birthchild of mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana and zero-waste pioneer Doug McAllister. The table tops are made from recycled yoghurt pots and the lights from paper mulch and cork. However, the main focus is the food and drink.

Cub employs a closed-loop system to produce as little waste as possible, while nothing but sustainable ingredients are bought into the kitchen and bar. It’s kind of a big deal ­– when someone as with as much international fame as Mr Chetiyawardana opens a bar hinged on sustainability, you can expect the rest of the world to take note.

More people buying into ethicality

ethical food innovators 2017

Native breed West Country Wessex Saddleback crossed with a Welsh Boar pigs at Pipers Farm in Devon

According to a report carried out by Triodos Bank and Ethical Consumer, sales in organic and ethical food and drink flourished in the past year, while conventional food stagnated. It’s good news for ethical food in general, as that side of the market saw a growth of 9.7%, and the fourteenth year straight in which interest in ethical goods has increased.

‘It appears that demand for locally produced artisan food is driving a revival of local shopping,’ said Ethical Consumer co-editor Rob Harrison. ‘Shoppers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, and that it’s come from somewhere as local as possible to reduce its carbon footprint.’

Sustainable cod is back on the menu

ethical food innovators 2017

Stocks of North Sea cod fell to 36,000 ten years ago. So it was remarkable news when the Marine Stewardship Council said reserves had recovered enough in 2017 for them to be sustainably sourced again.

Mark Pike, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group, called this a ‘massive development’ where, finally, shoppers could buy one of the nation’s favourite fish with a clear conscience. We hope the fishing industry collaborates to make sure things stay that way.

Brewers take ethicality to heart

ethical food innovators 2017

The team at Long Arm Brewery, owned by brothers Ed (left) and Tom Martin.

Craft beer still makes up for a comparatively small portion of the brewing industry, but given the total figure of breweries reached the 2,000 milestone in 2017, you have to wonder – for how much longer? As the number continues to rise, so too does those with a sustainable philosophy.

Unlike big breweries, these small guys are more mindful. A more nimble bunch, they can adopt waste-saving initiatives such as repurposing spent grain otherwise destined for the bin, drastically cutting down on water used, rolling out more environmentally friendly packaging (such as cans), and turning surplus or waste products into beer. Some like the Long Arm pub in Shoreditch are even embracing aquaponics to feed fish their spent grain, waste from which is used to fertilise their urban farm.

Coffee drinkers snub high-street chains in favour of small batch roasters

ethical food innovators 2017

Will Corby, Head of Coffee at Pact with Colombian grower Faiber Vega and his family. Faiber describes how the opportunity to sell his best beans has revolutionised farm life.

Three years ago, Costa’s sales were on a high. August 2017, however, saw them at a new low. The reason? Partly down to rising costs, and the rise of internet shopping, but even Whitbread’s chief executive (Whitbread being the conglomerate who own Costa) had to admit Britain is caught up on a new appetite for higher quality, extra-ordinary coffee from independent roasters. And as we’ve seen with the likes of Pact, these setups generally favour the farmer’s welfare more than they do their own profits.

‘War on the straw’ takes hold among popular bars and restaurants

Millions of plastic straws, which end up in our oceans, are fatal hazards to marine life and sea birds. In the wake of a distressing video depicting a bloody sea turtle with a straw wedged up its nose, pub chain Oakman Inns stopped stocking plastic straws from their sites and opted for an eco alternative instead. The move triggered other chains to swiftly follow suit ­– JD Wetherspoon, Be At One, The Alchemist, Laine Pub Company and Liberation Group, Hawksmoor, and Redcob Pubs to name just a few. More are expected to join them.

Councils and organisations address the deplorability of disposability

The #SquareMileChallenge in the city of London. Image: Hubbub.

Innovation in the world of straws is just the start – it’s estimated there’s five trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s oceans. So does the war on the straw really align with the actions of cutting out plastic as a whole? Well, quite possibly.

This year, London’s first plastic-free shop opened in Hackney; Borough Market introduced water fountains as their first action in phasing out single-use plastic bottles; and City of London launched a Square Mile Challenge which succeeded in their goal of recycling half a million coffee cups in April, with the aim of recycling five million by the end of the year. However small these victories, they’re concrete signs that we’re not just open to the idea of harmony among animals, one another, and the planet – we’re actually championing it too.

Any other good news to come out of 2017? Shout it out in the comments below.

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