And breathe. It’s over. A year of political chaos, war, strikes, egg shortages, fevered cost price increase negotiations. When impish e-cigarette ElfBar became a fashion, BrewDog’s image got trashed, and Getir rolled back prices to the 1990s as brands hurriedly (or not so hurriedly) exited Russia. As we prepare to go again in 2023 we look back on the highlights and lowlights
Cock-up of the year: CBD farce blamed on ‘clerical error’
For businesses selling CBD, 31 March seemed like a practical joke. For months, the FSA promised a definitive list of which products could remain on the market, yet on publication it was clear hundreds had been omitted. The FSA blamed “clerical errors”, eventually tripling the size of the list. But the process was the final nail in the coffin for Beckham-backed Cellular Goods, acquired by Cannaray.
Craze of the year: ElfBar makes (e)smoking cool
The vaping category more than doubled its value in 2022 to a whopping £793.2m. And it was throwaway vape devices leading the runaway success – the highest of any category in grocery – with disposable category leader ElfBar becoming the most valuable e-cig brand by a considerable margin. It’s now worth £322.1m in grocery, having shifted an extra 55.8 million units.
Quotes of the year
“People call it challenging. I call it swimming against the current in sulphuric acid”
Dmytry Tsygankov, Fozzy Supermarket
Deal of the year: St Pierre makes a lot of dough
British-owned St Pierre – a fast-growing brioche bakery firm run by Paul Baker and Jeremy Gilboy was sold to Grupo Bimbo in a deal worth over £300m
TikTok sensation Little Moons was an early contender for this award, with US private equity firm L Catterton picking up a minority share of the mochi ice cream business after a five-way bidding war in February that finally valued the company at £100m. But in October, British-owned St Pierre – a fast-growing brioche bakery – topped it by selling up to Grupo Bimbo in a deal worth over £300m.
“If we became plastic-neutral now, we would have to pass some of that extra cost on to customers and I’m simply not prepared to do it”
Richard Walker, MD, Iceland
Fallen star of the year: Oatly’s image takes a beating
How the mighty have fallen. Oatly was already starting to slide at the start of 2022 in the wake of a series of PR fails. This year, things went from bad to worse. Its climbing losses, weak sales, and stiff economic headwinds have led investors to shed Oatly’s stock in their droves, the share price tumbling to $1.30, down from $28.73 back in June 2021. A few PR gaffes now seem the least of its worries.
“Tesco said on inflation they would be least and last. But it seems when passing inflationary costs on to suppliers, they are first and highest”
Ged Futter, director, The Retail Mind
Initiative of the year: Asda throws a lifeline for OAPS
Asda has served over one million heavily subsidised meals in its cafés since the launch of its Kids Eat for Free initiative launched in June. The summer holiday initiative was extended to the end of the year, and with OAPs also struggling amid the cost of living crisis, it further extended the idea in October with a £1 soup and roll meal deal that included unlimited top-ups of tea and coffee in Asda’s cafés.
Rip-off of the year: Quorn ‘blatantly rips off’ cartoon badger meme
Quorn’s August launch of Uniquorns, its new unicorn-shaped vegan nuggets, got off to a less than magical start, after a video featuring on a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook was outed for its uncanny resemblance to a 2003 animated meme – known as Badger Badger Badger or The Badger Song – by animator Jonti Picking.
Quorn’s ad was a “blatant ripping-off of my copyrighted work” said Picking and he received widespread support across social media, with one viewer tweeting: “Shameless rip-off. See you in quort!”
Happily, Quorn and Picking reached a financial settlement, as well as collaborating on a revised version, under licence.
“With no agriculture, there’s no business for us. Our concern is that a lot of people haven’t realised the food production clock is ticking”
Ronald Kers, CEO, 2 Sisters
Trend of the year: Food workers join strike action
Anyone who remembers the strikes of the 1970s will have been treated to a dose of déjà vu this year. As the cost of living crisis intensified, industrial action became a running theme of 2022. Port workers, nurses and train drivers may have grabbed the headlines, but there were plenty of strikes – or threatened ones – in food and drink: Jacob’s, Quorn, Bakkavor, Amazon and Asda among them.
Weirdest launch of the year: Branston gets mayo mash-up
Say hello to Branstonnaise, the first (and understandably only) pickle-mayo hybrid. Marketed rather unappetisingly as “the ultimate tangy, creamy spread”, the jars rolled out in November to mark Branston’s centenary year. The brand also launched a limited run of ‘Braviar’ tins – mini pickle-flavoured balls resembling caviar – to mark the occasion. Whatever happened to ageing gracefully?
“The government has acknowledged the food system is unsustainable. The question now is how much damage is done before it shifts into a new mode of operation”
Henry Dimbleby, author, National Food Strategy
Winner of the year: Allwyn picks up £80bn lottery
If ever there was a case of nominative determinism then Allwyn Entertainment had it covered this year. In March it won the race to become the preferred bidder for the £80bn National Lottery. Then in September Camelot, which has run the lottery since its inception in 1994, put up the white flag, withdrawing its legal challenge. To cap it all off, Allwyn bought Camelot in November.
“If Tesco are prepared to delist Heinz Beanz then they’ll delist someone with £5m of sales in a heartbeat”
Charles Lanceley, Alantra Asset Managers
Computer says no award: Amazon makes a meal of HFSS
Amazon’s efforts to meet new rules restricting the placement of HFSS products on its website was “a complete and utter shambles”, according to suppliers, with promo activity suspended even on compliant products and in unaffected categories. Sellers faced long waits for reapproval ahead of crucial Christmas trading, with Amazon blaming its cautious approach on the system’s algorithms.
End of an era award: The Queen, Aldi, and Robinsons mark big change
The Queen’s life of public service included wholehearted support for Britain’s food and drink industry, from the Royal Warrant held by the likes of Waitrose and British Sugar, to countless visits to open stores and factories. Photographs show she was touring supermarkets as far back as the 1950s. The significance of her death was seen clearly in the reaction of food businesses up and down the country. Almost as one, major supermarkets and food manufacturers turned their branding black across social media and posted messages paying their respects, while on the day of the funeral itself all major supermarkets closed for at least a few hours.
Around the same time, another changing of the guard was happening as Aldi overtook Morrisons in the so-called ‘big four’ of grocery, marking a momentous watershed for the discounter. Now Aldi and Lidl together have more than 1,900 stores and hoover up around £1 in every £6 spent on groceries in the UK.
If the exit of Morrisons from the big four was unsurprising, the dumping of Robinsons as sponsor of Wimbledon tennis, after 86 years, was a story no one saw coming. The AELTC ditched the partnership despite not having an alternative refreshment brand lined up. One to watch.
“I imagine Lord Sainsbury arriving at the big supermarket in the sky and the Tannoy announces: ‘Will all department heads report to their stations. The manager is here’”
Jon Hartland, Sainsbury’s Veterans Association
Sign of the times award: milk and butter get security tags
Asda’s decision to place security tags on packs of Lurpak in August brought the butter into the esteemed company of protected valuables like mobile phones and microwaves. While £10 for a 1kg tub is certainly expensive, hiding such a container – or milk, tagged in one Tesco store – down your trousers is no mean feat. But with more self-checkouts than ever, shoplifting is now in plain sight.
“We have to get used to the fact that perfection in vegetable and fruit production may become an elusive goal”
Jack Ward, CEO, British Growers Association
Sunk without trace award: Tree of Life collapse leaves creditors raging
An outpouring of rage broke out after the collapse of Health Made Easy, a health food wholesaler, in August. The group, made up of distributors Tree of Life and The Health Store, left hundreds of trade creditors almost £20m out of pocket, while challenger brands lost tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid bills.
Brands had already raised questions about a pattern of late payments and big orders in the weeks and months leading up to the failure. In the aftermath of the administration, directors at Health Made Easy pointed the finger at lender HSBC for offering too little support as the business reeled from the twin shocks of Brexit and Covid.
Titanic deckchair award: McColl’s rescue delayed over competition fear
Back in May, Morrisons rescued the sinking McColl’s from administration for £190m. But it took until November for the supermarket to get its hands on the stricken chain. This was largely down to the time taken for the CMA to investigate the deal and identify competition concerns in 35 areas.
Thankfully for the majority of McColl’s employees, Morrisons was able to placate the watchdog by promising to sell 28 McColl’s stores from the 1,164-strong estate.
There was a sting in the tale, though, as Morrisons later confirmed it was set to close a further 132 stores that had been loss-making for some time. In fairness, many experts had predicted worse.
Hilarious, disastrous and frankly outrageous moments that shaped 2022
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Hilarious, disastrous and frankly outrageous moments that shaped 2022