MARCH DIGITAL EDITION – Spring is on the way Green shoots in the economy: Lidl open more stores, Arla’s strong results

Welcome to the March issue of The Grocery Trader. Spring on the way means time to look for green shoots, including in the economy. There was good news from Lidl, the UK’s fastest growing supermarket, which has opened new stores in Edinburgh, Stockton, Hull, Polegate and Rosehill in Sutton, taking its UK store count to 700 and taking on 200 new employees, who will be among the best paid in the industry, following Lidl’s commitment in November to pay the Living Wage. And in manufacturing Arla Foods has announced its Group 2017 results with the UK, its largest market growing retail and foodservice revenue to £1.94 billion, from £1.79 billion in 2016.

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As our Spring Soft Beverages feature points out, 2018 will go down in UK marketing history as a momentous year for soft drinks. Consumers will pay more for their favourite treats from April, when the soft drinks levy comes into force. The duty on producers and importers of sweet drinks is intended to cut obesity, especially in children. Drinks with total sugar content above 5g per 100 millilitres will be taxed at 18p per litre and drinks above 8g per 100 millilitres at 24p per litre.

But before that happens energy drinks, a much criticised product category in recent years, have been seeing a clampdown on kids’ purchases from the retailers themselves. It follows energy drinks’ sugar and caffeine content remaining high despite reformulations ahead of the soft drinks levy. Asda, Aldi, Tesco and Morrisons have joined Waitrose in banning high-caffeine energy drinks sales to under-16s. And the move has prompted the irrepressible campaigner Jamie Oliver to call for a complete ban on the sale of energy drinks to children. Perhaps all this will encourage consumers to reappraise their soft drinks habits and switch to coconut water, whose sales have grown twentyfold since 2012.

In our Fridges & Chillers feature the HFC phase-down will have a major influence on use of refrigerants, including in food and drink manufacturing and retail. The first really big cut in HFC supply comes this year, when there will be a cut of around 40%. For more details download the Food & Drink Federation‘s Update on F-Gas Regulation and Refrigerants July 2017 as a pdf. Or talk to your supplier. Staying with fridges, in the era of the Time’s Up movement and black dresses at the BAFTAs, the Institute of Refrigeration is sponsoring the International Women in Engineering Day 2018 on 23 June, reaffirming its commitment to promoting gender diversity and inclusivity, as necessary in the refrigeration industry as everywhere else.

And finally, our spiritual guardians used to advise us to give up drugs, cigarettes, gluttony or alcohol for Lent. Now they’re saying it is the demon plastic we should resist! The Church of England has joined the UK government, Prince Charles, Prince Harry and the BBC to warn us against indulgence in “Single Use Plastics” and that we should give these up for Lent and beyond. Thank you to our friends at National Flexible, the packaging people for bringing this to our attention.