Iceland pledges to become first supermarket to go plastic-free on own brand products by 2023

Iceland pledges to become first supermarket to go plastic-free on own brand products by 2023

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Iceland has vowed to eliminate plastic packaging for all own brand products within five years to help end the “scourge” of plastic pollution.

The supermarket said it was the first major retailer globally to go “plastic-free” on its own label products and aimed to complete the move by the end of 2023.

Iceland plans to replace plastic with pulp trays and paper bags which would be recyclable through domestic waste collections or in-store recycling facilities.

It has already removed plastic disposable straws from its own label range and new food ranges set to hit the shelves in early 2018 will use paper-based rather than plastic food trays.

The move, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, comes amid growing concern over plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, where it can harm and kill wildlife such as turtles and seabirds.

Last week, Theresa May pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years as part of the Government’s environmental strategy, with calls for supermarkets to introduce “plastic-free” aisles.

A survey for Iceland revealed overwhelming public support for a shift away from plastic by retailers, with 80 per cent of 5,000 people polled saying they would endorse a supermarket’s move to go plastic-free.

Iceland managing director, Richard Walker, said: “The world has woken up to the scourge of plastics.

“A truckload is entering our oceans every minute causing untold damage to our marine environment and ultimately humanity – since we all depend on the oceans for our survival.

“The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.”

He also said Iceland would ensure all packaging was fully recyclable and would be recycled, through support for initiatives such as a bottle deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.

As it was technologically and practically possible to create less environmentally harmful alternatives, “there really is no excuse any more for excessive packaging that creates needless waste and damages our environment”, he added.

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven, said: “Last month a long list of former heads of Britain’s biggest retail groups wrote a joint statement to explain that the only solution to plastic pollution was for retailers to reject plastic entirely in favour of more sustainable alternatives like recycled paper, steel, glass and aluminium.

“Now Iceland has taken up that challenge with its bold pledge to go plastic free within five years.

“It’s now up to other retailers and food producers to respond to that challenge.”

Samantha Harding, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Iceland are steadfastly laying the path that all supermarkets should be following.

“Alongside its support for a deposit return system, Iceland’s commitment to go plastic-free by 2023 shows that powerful retailers can take decisive action to provide what their customers want, without the environment paying for it.”

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January 16, 2018 |

Pork and Rice: Ideal mix for snackers who want to make serious pigs of themselves

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George Rice is a man who made his name through bunnies, and has turned his attention to pigs. The entrepreneur’s first career was defined by nifty sales of the late Hugh Hefner’s long-eared Playboy logo, and his second is focused on porky products.

He’s thrown himself into it: Serious Pig’s headquarters are shaped like a large pigsty, under the arches beneath Peckham Rye station. Trains thunder overhead as Rice — whose style is more sleeves-rolled-up-practical than hipster despite the beard — hobbles around the small manufacturing and packing factory (he’s done his back in).

Serious Pig has rapidly evolved from a vague pub idea to create a “posh Peperami” to a smart, edgy brand stocked nationwide with a heavyweight cavalry of backers. Its products, which include snacking salami and his crispy crackling answer to pork scratchings, are stocked in upmarket haunts such as Fortnum & Mason, Whole Foods and Heston Blumenthal’s two pubs in Bray. And Tesco has just put it  on its “incubator programme” of brands it nurtures, marking a break into the mainstream.

The Junction Tavern in Kentish Town provided the backdrop for Rice, and co-founder Johnny Bradshaw, to formulate the brand, unimpressed by the meaty sandwich-box snack of choice, the Peperami. “The eureka moment was that there’s no good version of that product. Every other product, there’s a spectrum of quality you can buy. If it’s a watch, you can spend £20 on this,” he says, pointing to his Casio. “Or you can spend £20,000. It’s quite unusual to find a product that doesn’t fit to that.”

Rice was intent on creating a version of a French saucisson, with signature flourishes such as black pepper, chilli and paprika, to accompany booze. He went through a string of manufacturers and packaging suppliers as he grew the brand, eventually moving, in 2015, to the small, tightly packed factory where the meat — largely procured from East Anglia — is finely cut, dried and packaged.

This modest south London enclave, pristine amid the greasy hum of neighbouring car mechanics, feels a world away from Rice’s early career. Growing up in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, he left college “thinking I was equipped to set up a business but I wasn’t — I didn’t know which way the world went round”.

His furniture design business quickly failed. Plunging into the city’s famed textile trade, he joined the empire of its leading light, Paul Smith, as self-styled “head of buttons”. “I always looked up to him. He gave me a lot of inspiration to go it alone,” Rice says of Smith. He then joined an ex-colleague in a venture which would give him his entrepreneurial nous, building a fashion brand from products featuring that famous bunny.

“We took £2 million turnover to £8 million within three years but the risk, which happened, was that Playboy got greedy and licensed the hell out of [the logo]. Any credibility that we had built up on the fashion side was completely unravelled by the plastic hairdryers.” 

Rice sold his house, travelled through Asia and headed to London on his return. “I thought ‘I’ll be all right, I’ll be able to get a job back in fashion’,” he recalls. “But it was the credit crunch, my contacts were useless, they were all homeless!”

The Serious Pig (very nearly named Duke of Pork) venture followed. Rice, the “boss hog” quickly established the brand in the premium pub trade, and has broadened it from there. “The phone started ringing and it was a deli here or a farm shop there. It’s an impulse purchase. A couple of years ago, we sold 250,000 to easyJet who had us in their meal boxes for a season.” Those who thought pigs can’t fly were proved wrong. 

Rice set about assembling a crack team of backers and says the brand is now “match fit” and growing. Using a crowdfunding platform for wealthy types, he raised £125,000 to grow the business. James Watt, the BrewDog founder, invested his own funds and has helped to tutor Rice as well as linking up his booming beer brand for promotions (next week, there’s a string of Pass the Pigs tournaments in BrewDog pubs). And, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Marks & Spencer, Michael Marks, joins ex-Cable & Wireless boss Tony Rice (no relation) and ex-Asda legal counsel Nick Cooper on its board. Rice is refreshingly frank on their motives: “One day we might be acquired by someone, let’s not pretend that an investor doesn’t want to have an exit and they’re there for the love.  Private equity would be on the radar to begin with, depending on  how big we were, maybe a food brand. It certainly won’t be a manufacturer.” He pauses, and  adds: “But we have a hell of a lot of work left to do.”

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January 16, 2018 |

Carillion collapse: How the pensions picture will pan out

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Contractor Carillion has collapsed so what happens to current and former workers relying on the company for their retirement?

How many people are in the Carillion pension schemes ?

Carillion has 13 pension schemes with 28,000 members. Some 12,000 are already retired. The schemes have a combined black hole of £580 million although pensions analyst John Ralfe says it stands at £1.4 billion under a more realistic calculation. That would make the UK’s Pension Protection Fund (PPF) Carillion’s biggest creditor ahead of the banks. 

What happens to the pensioners?

The PPF was set up to protect pensioners of collapsed companies and is poised to step in and bail out the scheme. That means existing Carillion pensioners will receive 100% of their benefits, come what may. However, pensioners will receive slightly less over time as the PPF only inflation-proofs pension increases up to a certain level.

What about current workers?

People yet to retire are expected to receive about 90% of their pension entitlement once they down tools but will lose inflation-proofing increases. Some high earners, including executives, could lose a lot more due to a £34,655-a-year cap on pension payments. A current executive entitled to a £50,000 a year pension would suffer a 30% hit. 

What happens next?

Carillion’s liquidators will contact the PPF to start transferring the schemes. Pension payments will continue. The schemes will then enter the PPF assessment period — up to two years. Although one of the biggest schemes to move into the PPF, the fund has assets of  £6 billion to cushion the blow. 


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January 16, 2018 |

Cabinet Office's lawyers run the rule over exposure to Carillion

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The Cabinet Office has drafted in lawyers to assess the Government’s exposure to the sprawling mass of public contracts held by crisis-hit builder Carillion, the Standard can reveal.

The potential failure of Carillion, laden with £900 million in debts and a £600 million pension deficit, has shot up the ministerial agenda this week after meetings with lenders on Wednesday proved inconclusive. 

Whitehall has also held meetings this week to discuss the fallout, while the company is understood to be in talks with the Pensions Regulator today.

Official notices show the Cabinet Office has awarded a £100,000 contract to law firm Dentons to “assist with gathering legal intelligence and consolidating information on all existing supplier contracts involving Carillion” following the “significant distressed financial issues” involving the company.

The contract notice stresses the need for a “rapid assessment” of the Government’s direct and indirect exposure to the firm, which lurched into crisis after a catastrophic profit warning six months ago. 

Dentons’ “deep-dive” assessment of the risks “will form the basis of a more detailed contingency plan which will consider the current options available depending on the level of distress”.

Carillion is involved in several long-term contracts such as major construction deals for the Ministry of Defence — as well as winning work on the HS2 rail project last year — making any assessment a complex job. 

Further work may be needed depending on the “level of distress and the financial support provided by the supplier shareholders and lenders”. The contract award, which was published late last year, runs until April.

Carillion’s share price, which has dropped more than 90% in the past year, was down another 0.25p, or 1%, at 19.75p today. Analysts believe a major debt for equity swap looks inevitable, putting lenders in control.

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January 13, 2018 |

London hedge fund minnow India investments proves a winner

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A tiny London hedge fund with just five employees has emerged top of the hedgie league after investments in India paid off last year.

Mayfair-based Habrok Capital’s Habrok India Fund returned 77.6% in dollar terms for the year ending December 2017, says an investor letter seen by the Standard.

That puts it in contention as one of the best-performing hedge funds in the world last year, ahead of many larger rivals. Good stock picks from fund manager Rahul Khanna and rising Indian markets drove the performance.

The “Nifty 50” of Indian blue chips stocks rose 37% last year.

Khanna, 43, is chief investment officer of Habrok, which was founded in 2003 and offers funds to professional investors and well-off clients.

A HSBC table of global hedge funds had the Habrok India Fund ranked as number one in the world in early December, ahead of UK hedge funds from the likes Pelham Capital and Cantab Capital.

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January 13, 2018 |

Market report: Defence stocks fired up as takeover chatter gets Square Mile buzzing

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Deal fever gripped the markets on Friday after GKN, the engineering and aerospace group, rejected an “opportunistic” approach from turnaround specialist Melrose.

GKN has long been viewed as a break-up or takeover target and trading floors were awash with chatter about consolidation in the defence and engineering sectors.

Analysts said that, should Melrose back away for good, then there were plenty of others who could step in.

Richard Hunter, at Interactive Investor, said: “It will be interesting to see whether Melrose comes back with a higher offer or indeed, whether this will prompt another bidder to throw their hat into the ring. GKN has good geographical reach but it is currently in the midst of challenging trading conditions, all of which make GKN vulnerable to a bid such as this.”

Troubled manufacturer Cobham — which could do with a boost — has emerged as a potential raider having shown signs at the back of end last year that its restructuring programme was proving fruitful. Cobham’s shares were 4p higher at 130.9p and the UK’s two biggest players, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems saw shares rise — up 5p to 852p and 0.4p to 585.8p respectively. 

GKN rose 87.3p to 419.9p and Melrose gained 14.6p to 229.6p.

Overall the FTSE 100 was up 11.89p at 7774.83 points as analysts took stock after a busy week for retailers.

Miners were struggling after analysts at Morningstar downgraded Rio Tinto. The Australian-British business was off 30.5p at 4135p and Anglo American lost 11.2p at 1749.9p. It is worth noting though that both these stocks have risen over 20% since December.

Shell was down 5p at 2602p and BP lost 1.1p to 531.9p as oil prices eased off $70 a barrel highs from overnight.

Elsewhere on the top flight, Smiths Group — the maker of medical devices — announced a healthy tax cut in US. It said that looking ahead to next year, it expects a headline effective tax rate in the range of 23% to 25% — a 5% cut on present rates. Shares climbed 53.5p, or 3.4%, to 1621p.

Another mover and shaker was Mondi after Investec rated the paper and packaging firm a Buy. Analyst Gerard Moore said: “The stock has underperformed the market by 10% and now trades on a discount to peers, which we see as unwarranted. In our view, investors have overreacted to short-term issues from last year and too easily discounted the Group’s long term track record.” Shares rose 39p, or 2.1%, 1941p.

Brokers at Investec were also impressed with Virgin Money, upgrading it to a Buy. Shares gained 4.4p at 293.6 as the broker applauded the strength of its credit card and mortgage books.

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January 13, 2018 |

House of Fraser rejects price cuts despite sales woes

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House of Fraser suffered a “disappointing” Christmas but insisted it would not slash prices to chase sales.

The department store that brands itself as “premium”, saw sales in the six weeks to December 23 fall 2.9%. Black Friday sales rose 0.8%, but that seemed to dent performance later.

Digital sales across the period were even worse, down 7.5%.

Chief executive Alex Williamson, regarded as a somewhat controversial hire in retail circles, is sticking to his guns.

“Our focus is on driving profitability rather than chasing revenue at any cost. We are not a business determined to sell everything to everyone at any price,” he said.

He added: “We are really keen on making money, we are not a business that should win a volume game.”

Owned by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower, House of Fraser has struggled for the last few years to find a niche in a competitive landscape.

It will report full-year figures in April, and expects to be profitable.

Williamson and chairman Frank Slevin are in the midst of a “transformation programme” that has so far made cost savings of £10 million.

Another £16 million should follow this year.

HoF admitted that although trading during the first week of the post-Christmas Sale was “disappointing”, sales since New Year’s Day have recovered.Said Williamson: “We’ve got a huge amount still to do. But we can trade with the best of them.”

“We are a business in transition; Our focus is on driving profitability rather than chasing revenue at any cost. We are not a business determined to sell everything to everyone at any price. What’s important, and we are seeing some success in the numbers, is to keep our discipline in selling those products that are loved by customers and profitable for House of Fraser. 

“The trajectory of our web business is now back on track following the re-platforming carried out earlier in the year; our investment in our logistics and supply chain is beginning to yield dividends and through the careful curation of our product mix we grew margins over the Christmas period by 0.5%, at constant exchange rates. Let’s not forget we can trade with the best of them too as we delivered another record Black Friday performance. 

“The execution of our transformation plans continues at pace, and we are confident that we will deliver an exceptional experience for our customers and brand partners whilst delivering a sustainable and profitable future for House of Fraser.”

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January 12, 2018 |

Bitcoin plummets after South Korea signals trading clampdown

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Bitcoin plunged on Thursday after South Korea pledged to ban crypto-currencies in a sign of increasing regulatory scrutiny of the financial phenomenon.

A number of crypto-currency exchanges were also raided in the South Korean capital of Seoul overnight amid allegations of  tax evasion.

Bitcoin at one point fell 8% to $13,699.19 after pre-Christmas highs when it threatened to breach the $20,000 mark. 

South Korea has become a hub for crypto-currency with more than a dozen exchanges operating in Seoul. 

Some of the biggest, like Coinone and Bithumb, were raided by police and tax authorities. The government is preparing a draft bill to put  before the National Assembly to ban the exchanges. 

“There are great concerns regarding virtual currencies and the justice ministry is basically preparing a bill to ban crypto-currency trading through exchanges,” South Korea justice minister Park Sang-ki said. 

Bitcoin prices surged more than 1000% last year as retail investors piled into the speculative currency, which is created by harnessing computer-processing power. 

Investment guru Warren Buffett became the latest to weigh in on the topic yesterday when he said he expected a “bad ending” for bitcoin.

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January 12, 2018 |

Borrowers wary of loans in the face of rising inflation

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Britons are cutting back on overdrafts and personal loans after a Bank of England survey on Thursday showed the first drop in demand since 2015.

Despite stable demand for credit-card lending, alternative forms of borrowing dried up in the final quarter of 2017, and banks expect the figure to plummet in the first quarter of this year. 

That is the biggest drop since  the final quarter of 2015, the Bank  of England Credit Conditions  Survey said. 

Banks also trimmed the availability of non-credit-card lending to spenders in every quarter of last year as they tightened the criteria used to assess borrowers.

Lenders also expected to reject the biggest number of applicants for unsecured customer loans since the last quarter of 2008, the survey suggested. 

Brits are facing a squeeze because of increasing inflation, from the weakening of sterling and from stagnant wage growth. 

However, household demand for remortgage loans surged as people looked to head off the Bank’s interest-rate hike last year.

The figure showed the largest quarter-on-quarter increase in demand for such loans since the early part of 2009. 

Interest-rate setters at the Bank agreed to increase interest rates from 0.25% to 0.5% at their meeting last November, the first time for 10 years they had hiked rates.

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January 12, 2018 |

Suranga Chandratillake: Hype or reality? Tech investments for 2018

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As American futurist Roy Amara said: “we overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” We get excited about innovative ideas, then disillusioned when they fail to deliver immediately but, in time, they resurface and change our lives even more than we had initially expected.

History is full of examples of this. In the late 1990s, Palm Pilots and Apple Newtons failed to make computing mobile, but iPhones today do more than we’d ever expected from those early gadgets. 

I would like to share four technology themes that look like they will drive 2018. But bear Amara in mind — some of these will be all hype, others are back and will make a real impact this time.

Still a Dream: Self-driving Cars

Most engineers grew up watching Knight Rider, and recent developments in computer vision have got them excited about this particular science catching up with fiction. Will self-driving cars happen? Absolutely. Will they happen in 2018? Absolutely not. 

The reality is that the state of the art still requires hugely expensive technology, and almost no one has the colossal volumes of data required to train a computer to cope with the events that occur even on a simple school run. And all of that is before we think about ethics and regulation.

However, expect to see excitement around the trend as companies such as FiveAI and Oxbotica run public trials. Less sexy, but still very impactful, we will see other technology-led developments to transport. Uber and its ilk will  take a stronger hold across the country and here in London watch Citymapper roll out its revolutionary new Smartbus.

In the hype cycle: bitcoin and blockchain

Expect to read lots about bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash as well as blockchain, the technology that underpins these so-called crypto-currencies. 

Blockchain has created an entirely new way of thinking about trust. Rather than requiring a central body that we believe in (the village elders, a monarch, a government, an economic union built on treaty), trust can for the first time in history be reliably distributed throughout a community, perhaps one as large as humanity itself. 

This is a huge idea that I strongly believe will eventually change everything about the way we  govern and organise ourselves as a society and the way we track fundamental things like property, wealth and debt.

In countries such as the UK, however, these systems work perfectly well. Couple that lack of a problem with fundamental questions around the scalability of blockchain technology, and we’re probably a while away from sweeping change. 

On the other hand, there are  places in the world where trust is already so scarce that the technology makes sense. Witness recent  news stories about the Kremlin’s plans for a crypto-rouble and the runaway success of companies like London-based Luno, which provides a bitcoin wallet popular in developing economies. 

In addition, the rampant speculation on the currencies themselves is likely to continue its volatile course, which means the topic will be a news favourite through the year.

Coming of age: the AI-powered office

Since Google’s £400 million acquisition of DeepMind, the technology world has been awash with excitement around what artificial intelligence might do. 

The phrase conjures up images of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or R2-D2 from Star Wars but reality has been more prosaic — better search results from Google, the occasional inspired moment from Apple’s Siri and attempts by Facebook to spot everything from terrorism to teenage suicides before they happen.

However, I believe a key wave of AI will take off this year, if behind the scenes. Just as business process outsourcing has changed the way the service industry is run — in 2016, it was a $140 billion (£103 billion) business, taking the form of call centres in Dublin and social media marketing in Manila — many repetitive, white-collar tasks will become the domain of AI robots. 

Companies such as Tractable in insurance and Comply Advantage in compliance have built the technology and have access to the training data required to make this reality today. Though not talking robots or automated assistants, this trend will, in the long run, have an enormous impact on how humanity works.

A year of reckoning: Brexit

In the short-term aftermath of Brexit, it was common to point to relatively unchanged financial metrics and suggest the Remain campaign had overplayed its hand. 

The reality is that financial markets move fast, and knew profits could  still be gained in the short term. As Brexit continues its stumble towards reality, we will see with increasing clarity just what effect it will have on UK technology. 

Last year, for the first time in modern history, a country other than the UK led Europe for venture-capital funds raised (France, for the curious). This is a leading indicator on innovation itself, so expect to see the country lose some ground. 

In the meantime, with new immigration guidelines undefined and a difficult-to-assess impact on the brand of London and the UK as a place that welcomes entrepreneurial talent, also expect to see companies struggle to hire and grow at times. 

This is the year where Brexit, if not managed better, begins to bite.

For clarity, I am a partner at Balderton Capital. We invest in technology companies in trends  like those provided above and are direct investors in some of the companies mentioned.

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January 11, 2018 |
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