Outdoor Dining Expands After the Covid-19 Lockdown, and for the French the Change Could be Here to Stay

John Brunton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Many of the world’s cities, Hong Kong included, have long had love-hate relationships with al fresco dining; diners would like to see more of it, while motorists and others who benefit from restaurants remaining indoors usually get the backing of the authorities.

As one particularly bold city emerges from Covid-19 lockdown, however, its residents are getting a taste of what a more outdoor dining scene feels like. Should Hong Kong diners dare to dream?

From Montmartre to Saint-Germain, the Bastille to the Champs-Elysées, Paris’ cafe pavement terraces have spread over once sacred parking spaces, even extending across whole streets. Overnight, bar and bistro owners have set up creative barriers to guard their newly won territory; luxuriant plants and potted vines, bamboo screens, plastic palm trees, even giant teddy bears on guard in deckchairs.

It is nothing less than a revolution, and moreover, it could be here to stay.

President Emmanuel Macron is moving fast to open up the country, to stimulate the economy, and flashing round the globe are images of Parisians returning en masse to sit out on their beloved cafe terraces, enjoying timeless rituals such as the morning café au lait and croissants, a lunchtime plate of steak frites, a chilled glass of chablis or refreshing pastis as sunset aperitif.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, in the midst of a fierce re-election campaign, immediately decided to allow bars and restaurants to try to make up for the loss of earnings during lockdown by extending their pavement terraces, a measure adored by her electorate and which will last at least until September 30.

Hidalgo has long campaigned to “give Paris back to Parisians”, banning cars from motorways, limiting traffic during pollution peaks, planting green streets and massively extending the bike lane system.

Her initiatives have been copied by cities around the world, and the same looks to be happening with this terrace expansion; London has already announced similar measures for its West End for when pubs and restaurants reopen there in July.

“I am convinced that some good can come out of this pandemic if we start thinking outside the box, take opportunities we have never dared to before,” says Yves Camdeborde, France’s “King of Bistronomy” (affordable gourmet cuisine), who oversees a row of trademark Avant wine bars, a seething bistro packed from morning to night, and a boutique hotel on Paris’ Left Bank.

“These extended terraces must become a permanent feature of what will be a new Paris – more beautiful, a more human city. Just look at the smiles on people’s faces. Let people sit out on the pavement eating and drinking immediately makes the city come alive again.”

The Town Hall has established strict but workable rules for this terrace revolution; each establishment must sign and display its own charter mapping out the new pavement space, agreeing to sanitise and keep it clean of cigarette butts, keep noise levels down for the neighbours, and be responsible for the safety of customers.

“Obviously, the municipality must impose a clear and strict set of rules that respect all the other people on the pavement, from mothers pushing prams to handicapped people and delivery men, otherwise there is a risk of anarchy,” says Camdeborde. “But given a choice between cars and pedestrians, then this is the moment to get rid of cars as much as possible.

People on the terrace of Cafe de Flore in Paris as bars and restaurants reopen after two months of nationwide restrictions. Photo: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

People on the terrace of Cafe de Flore in Paris as bars and restaurants reopen after two months of nationwide restrictions. Photo: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

“I know Asian cities like Hong Kong well, and there is no reason why this kind of regulated measures cannot be implemented there, too. Just have an open mind and try.”

The Left Bank’s legendary Café de Flore already boasts the most celebrated Parisian terrace, immortalised by photographers and frequented by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot. The owners have chosen to make only a subtle, intimate extension of a dozen extra tables. So now patrons can sit down for a glass of champagne outside the neighbouring bookshop L’Ecume des Pages, which invited Flore to colonise its pavement.

“It would be marvellous if it becomes permanent,” says shop assistant Julien Doussimault. “The neighbourhood feels more charming and our literary customers love it.”

Sébastien Dumont, head waiter at the Flore, is more pessimistic, predicting that “after September 30, I am sure they will think of some way to prohibit the new terraces, as there are too many entrenched political interests and motorist lobbies who are opposed to any kind of radical change like this.”

Some Parisians see both sides of the argument. In the nightlife neighbourhood around Rue Oberkampf, Patrick Fiori, a retired journalist, finds an oasis of peace at a table in the shady cobbled square outside his local cafe. “I am not a great fan of pavement terraces – too much pollution, cars and motorbikes roaring past, bikes and pedal scooters zigzagging between tables. I prefer an isolated place like this or under the trees in a park.

“I don’t own a car, but can understand that with parking spaces vanishing everywhere, motorists are obviously not very happy. But then all Parisians love complaining! The solution everyone should be looking at is closing off certain streets completely to cars and letting cafes and restaurants take over the whole space. That at least would be a radical, long term solution.”

Akrame Benallal, one of the rising stars of the French gourmet scene, has run restaurants in both Paris and Hong Kong. The young Michelin-starred chef had two fine-dining eateries in Wan Chai until recently, when he decided to concentrate on his core Parisian business.

“I believe in taking advantage of situations and for me, this is a great period to have new ideas,” says Benallal. “Just look at old sepia pictures of the City of Light; people lived outside, crowding the pavements outside their favourite cafes, bistros and brasseries. And that image attracted and enchanted tourists. So I hope this is the moment to return to those nostalgic times.

“Could this also be time for a change in Hong Kong? Personally, I worry that Hong Kong is just too dense, too crowded to cope with enlarging cafe terraces. But the tradition of street food stalls is so strong – why not build on that and select a certain number of streets that will be permanently closed off to cars, allowing people to eat and drink everywhere within a controlled and ordered area?”

Professional musician Claude Montis is playing soft samba during an impromptu performance on Cafe Chez Camille’s huge new terrace on the bohemian Place d’Aligre, near the Bastille. He enthuses on the cultural possibilities of an outdoor urban landscape.

“If these changes become permanent, or at least return every summer, then why can’t music, theatre, dance and art create complementary events alongside Parisians eating and drinking on terraces, creating a whole new world of possibilities,” Montis says.

Hidalgo is certainly categoric, saying: “Cafe terraces are where Parisians meet and enjoy themselves, the soul of our city, and I am favourable to permanently extending both these enlarged terraces and making certain streets totally pedestrian, as long as it conforms to rules we set down to regulate the situation.”

Sipping a coffee on the terrace of Montmartre’s Cafe Ronsard, Julia, a Belgian tourist taking advantage of the recent reopening of frontiers within the Schengen passport-free travel zoen, sums the situation up perfectly: “Just look at this fantastic view over Sacré-Coeur’s basilica. Let’s hope we can always sit out like this and enjoy it – Vive la révolution!”

Source: SCMP

Vegan Seafood: The Next Plant-based Meat Trend?

Christine Ro wrote . . . . . . . . .

Seaweed-wrapped deep-fried tofu, served in newspaper. Marinated aubergine slices pressed over rice. Chunks of legume protein coated in oil and herbs. These products are intended to mimic various fish dishes – fish and chips, unagi, canned tuna – and they’re all available now.

Faux seafood isn’t entirely new, but products are limited and many of those that have been available so far have been underwhelming and undermarketed. These range from bland tofish and chips served in pubs to rubbery faux shrimp sold in Chinese grocers’ freezer sections, part of the long tradition of imitation meats in Chinese Buddhist cuisine.

These products are ripe for the kind of innovation that has driven and expanded the plant-based meat industry. Yet faux seafood manufacturers seeking to make niche products mainstream face some unique challenges, from cultivating great taste and texture through to scaling costs for ambitious new offerings.

Small market, challenging product

At the moment, faux seafood is a tiny sector in the food supply chain. In the US, the country with the most vegan seafood start-ups, plant-based seafood made up only 1% ($9.5m) of the dollar amount of all retail sales of plant-based meat in 2019. (And plant-based meat, in turn, made up 1% of total meat sales.) Total research and development on alternative seafood has only amounted to $10m–$20m so far.

One issue is the technical challenge of replicating flaky, fragile seafood. That means shelf-stable mock tuna has been easier to produce than fillets, and the great majority of plant-based seafood retail sales are of frozen products. The few companies in this space also tend to focus on perfecting a single faux seafood product rather than working on multiple products simultaneously.

Another thorny issue is nutrition. “People typically turn to conventional seafood for health benefits. And so being able to come really close to those benefits is extremely important on the plant-based seafood side,” says Jen Lamy, the sustainable seafood manager for the Good Food Institute (GFI).

Yet that’s been difficult to achieve. Good Catch’s fish-free tuna may come closest, with a legume blend providing protein and algal oil providing a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Perceived health benefit is the main driver of flexitarianism in the UK, and flexitarianism is in turn the main driver of mainstream take-up of faux meat. So nutrition is key if alternative seafood companies want to expand their consumer base for currently niche products.

Rising demand, rising opportunity

Overall, it’s taken consumers a while to begin clamouring for plant-based seafood. Nutrition aside, it’s also because animal welfare concerns about lobsters and farmed fish may not motivate vegetarians and vegans the way pigs and cows do. This is partly cultural and historical: fish aren’t considered meat under Catholicism, for instance, and so their consumption is acceptable on Fridays during Lent.

Yet the UK opened its first pop-up vegan fish and chip shop in 2018, with the vegan menu subsequently being rolled out to all locations of London chippy chain Sutton & Sons. Vegan items now contribute about 20% of their total revenue, reports Sutton & Sons spokesperson Nicholas O’Connor. And the vegan menu continues to expand, from ‘prawn’ cocktail to ‘calamari’ strips and the recently added ‘lobster’ roll.

In general, alternative seafood poses an enormous opportunity for investors. There’s huge potential for replicating the many types of seafood that end up on dinner plates. As well, shellfish allergy is the most common food allergy in many countries, creating space for shellfish simulacra (after all, lactose-sensitive people were important to the expansion of dairy-free milk).

Some observers believe that the transition from conventional seafood to plant-based versions will happen more rapidly than the shift from dairy milk to dairy-free, because of the high demand for seafood and the dwindling wild supply (and as many large fish species can’t be easily farmed). And even if ethical eaters are less concerned about the welfare of marine animals, awareness of the human rights abuses in global fishing chains and the potential depletion of certain marine species may be compelling.

Scaling the start-ups

The last 18 months have seen a number of important product launches and fundraising rounds; for instance, the company BlueNalu completed a $20m fundraising round in February 2020. A single company or investor could have an outsize impact on the overall market.

So could a government. Singapore, which has been working to move away from its dependence on imported food, has become a leader in alternative seafood. The Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation began collaborating in August 2019 with the Singaporean branch of Sophie’s Kitchen, a US plant-based seafood company, on fermenting microalgae to produce a protein substitute.

And Singapore’s Shiok Meats, which is working on cell-based crustacean products, could well become the first cell-based seafood company to enter the market. Sandhya Sriram, the CEO of Shiok Meats, explains that the company has received grants, tax rebates and regulatory assistance from the Singaporean government thus far, and is hoping to obtain additional funding and manufacturing support in the future.

Cell-based meat, sometimes called lab-grown meat or clean meat, has identical cellular structure to animal meat but doesn’t require slaughter. Instead cells from initial “donor animals” are grown in a bioreactor. The cell lines can continue to be used over and over, creating great potential to reduce animal suffering – although for the moment the process is energy-intensive and divisive.

Sriram acknowledges that not all vegetarians and vegans will be on board with this kind of seafood of the future. “At the end of the day, cell-based meats are still very much meats to the biological and cellular level – so if you do not eat meat, for example, for religious reasons, cell-based meats may not suit you. But for me as a vegetarian, for ethical reasons, I can consume cell-based meats without any guilt.”

It will take some time to get there, in any case. A single dumpling made with Shiok shrimp would cost about S$150 ($107, or £85). Sriram says that the company is still at the “R&D scale” but has plans to grow operations and reduce costs. In general, cell-based and plant-based meats are still more expensive than the conventional versions; as with Shiok, this is primarily an issue of a smaller scale.

‘Early days’

Of course, Covid-19 has altered everything. The traditional meat supply has been disrupted by the spread of infection in crowded processing plants and fishing boats. (Mock meat products are easier to produce in socially distanced conditions.)

One result is that seafood consumption is down in some countries. Overall, demand for plant-based meats has risen since the start of lockdown. Some 23% of surveyed US consumers say they’ve been eating more plant-based meals due to Covid-19 (about twice as many as those eating more meat). The figure is highest among 18-24-year-olds. During the lockdown in the US, both animal-based and plant-based meats have experienced surges in sales growth, but the percentage gains have been much higher for the alternative meats. “Plant-based meat has grown a lot relative to this period last year,” says Lamy.

But it’s hard to predict the long-term effects of the pandemic on innovative seafood companies, which are prone to excessive exuberance about how soon they can reach the market or how quickly they can spread. For one thing, consumers are likely to be very price sensitive, so the higher prices of seafood alternatives may be more of a stumbling block than usual.

Yet there’s more capital and technology flowing into this area than ever before, and Lamy is particularly enthusiastic about partnerships between established seafood companies like Bumble Bee (famous for canned tuna) and Good Catch (getting more famous for faux tuna). “There’s room for so many more entrants in this market,” she emphasises. “It’s still early days.”

Source: BBC


Read also at The Telegraph:

Britain’s first vegan fish and chip shop has opened. But how does it taste? . . . . .

Plant-based Fish is the New Vegan Trend

Lana Bandoim wrote . . . . . . . . .

Meat alternatives are growing in popularity as consumers demand more options. Now, plant-based fish is set to be the next vegan trend, and companies are responding with new products that mimic seafood.

Startups and large corporations are showing an interest in plant-based fish. Atlantic Natural Foods started offering TUNO, a fishless tuna alternative made from soy, yeast and sunflower extract, in 2018. Impossible Foods announced last year that it was working on plant-based fish, and Good Catch raised $32 million in financing this January for its plant-based seafood. Even Nestlé has revealed it wants to launch a vegan tuna salad.

Companies are reacting to what they are seeing in the seafood industry and the trend toward vegan alternatives. From concerns about the environment to fears about mercury, the fish industry has faced multiple challenges in recent years. The recent coronavirus outbreak has created additional pressures, including shortages of items in grocery stores. All of these factors have created a combination that is pushing consumers toward a dinner plate filled with plant-based fish instead of regular tuna.

“According to the United Nations, nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, with fisheries subsidies playing an integral part. Keeping startling statistics such as this in mind, Good Catch believes that the only truly sustainable seafood is one that allows fish to remain in the ocean, undisturbed,” Good Catch shared in a press release.

Currently, this is a gap in the food industry that companies can fill since plant-based seafood only makes up $9.5 million (1%) of the total plant-based meat dollar sales. Businesses struggling to capture consumers’ attention and taste buds may want to pursue the alternative meat market because it has the potential to fuel growth long-term.

Consumers are asking for healthy alternatives, and plant-based products are at the top of their list. Plant-based fish are a safe, mercury-free alternative that still provides necessary protein. They also lessen the guilt that is associated with overfishing that comes with eating seafood.

“Plant-based seafood provides a host of environmental benefits, including alleviating pressures on rapidly depleting fisheries, providing relief to fragile ocean ecosystems, reducing the impact of fishing nets on the ocean plastic problem, and reducing production-related GHG emissions,” Caroline Bushnell from the Good Food Institute said in a press release.

Another advantage that consumers and companies need to consider is the ability to make plant-based fish shelf-stable. The coronavirus outbreak has shown a need for healthy, affordable, nonperishable items that households can stockpile. Plant-based fish is a vegan trend that will not disappear soon.

Source: Forbes

12 Million Brits Will be Meat-Free By 2021

According to research from shopping comparison website Finder.com, 12 million UK consumers (23% of the population) say that they will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by 2021. There are already 6.7 million following a completely meat-free diet, and with an additional 5.3 million over the next 12 months would mean a growth of 79%.

The UK has a population of 66.4 million. Over a million more people intend to become vegan over the next 12 months, this trend follows on from a successful year for the dietary lifestyle. Finder’s research estimates that since the start of 2019, the number of vegans in the UK increased by 419,000 (62%). This trend is set to keep growing and in fact the number of vegans is expected to double by the end of 2021.

However, it seems not many were able to stick to a meat-free over the past year. Of the 5.2 million that hoped to completely cut out meat by the end of 2019, only 5% (236,000) have done so. One explanation for this could be a rise in the awareness of flexitarianism.

Millennials are the most meat-free generation at the moment – 15% of this generation said that they currently go without meat by following a pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan diet. By 2021 gen Z could overtake millennials, with 35% of gen Z aiming to be meat-free compared to 32% of millennials.

Georgia-Rose Johnson, shopping and travel specialist at Finder.com said: “In 2019 climate change received a lot more media exposure than it’s ever had before and highlighted that meat-free diets can help to improve current climate issues. With this in mind it’s great to see that such a large amount of people are aiming to be meat-free by the end of this year. Especially the number of those who are aiming to be vegan, with our research showing veganism grew by 62% in the UK over the last year.”

Source: Vegconomist

Sweets and Snacks Innovation Targets Health, Sustainability and Adventure Themes

With consumers often turning to more sustainable and healthier food choices, innovation in the confectionery and snacking categories is prominent. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of global consumers who said that they expect companies to invest in sustainability increased from 65 to 87 percent, according to an Innova Market Insights Consumer Survey (2019). With this in mind, the market researcher is now turning its attention to how trends such as sustainability, health and adventure, are impacting the highly innovative sweets and snacks categories.

Having announced its Top Ten Trends for 2020 towards the end of last year, Innova Market Insights pegged “Storytelling: Winning with Words” as its top trend for the year, driven by the increased interest in consumers discovering the origin stories behind their food. When it comes to sweets and snacks, value can be found not only in ingredient provenance but also in small batch or artisanal production and even in a celebration of different cultures, such as snacks sold on authentic international platforms, the marker researcher highlights.

Moreover, Innova’s #2 trend for 2020 “The Plant-Based Revolution” is a significant movement rooted in demands for more natural, healthy and eco-friendly products. Two-thirds of global consumers say that they specifically want to avoid products with ingredients that are difficult to understand (Innova Consumer Survey, 2019). As a result, more recognizable ingredients from the natural world are very much in favor in snacking development. Vegan products are also extending their reach, while snack bars remain important carriers for many healthy plant-based ingredients.

It is also clear that “The Sustain Domain” is another strong trend for this year. The sweets and snacks market is tackling this issue in various ways. In Japan, for example, paper wrappers are replacing plastic on Kit Kat chocolate bars, while food waste is also an issue which is being addressed, with less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables appearing as ingredients in healthy sweets and snacks.

Consumers are increasingly looking for “The Right Bite” as they attempt to balance busy lives with staying healthy. Snacking is a crucial part of this as snacks can deliver useful nutrition when there is no time for a proper sit-down meal. One area that is expected to become more important is mood food, with active ingredients in snacks helping consumers to relax, improve their sleep or alternatively feel more energized to face the day. At the same time, sweeter, indulgent treats can deliver comfort in a stressful world.

The fifth key trend for this year is “Tapping into Texture,” which is particularly relevant to sweets and snacks as texture can be an important tool in delivering novelty. Seven in ten global consumers think that texture gives food a more interesting experience and this is particularly evident in younger age groups (Innova Consumer Survey 2019). A total of 56 percent of those aged 26-35 say that they care more about the texture experience than they do about the ingredient list, compared with only 37 percent of over-55-year-olds, so textural twists can be a useful tool when targeting the young.

Source: Food Ingredients 1st