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Fri 15th Mar 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Accessibility makes good business sense, junk food jingos, what it says on the tin, and making sustainability count 
Authors: Nick Varney, Paul Chase, Elton Mouna and Helen McMillan

Accessibility makes good business sense by Nick Varney

Being inclusive of customers with disabilities is the right thing for businesses to do. People with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population and they are the fastest growing minority group, according to research. It’s a group that wants to access the same products, facilities and services as everyone else and, until now, is a group that has been under-served.

However, it’s not just about fairness – being more accessible makes good business sense. In the UK alone, the spending power of people with disabilities and their families has been estimated at £249bn. For the UK leisure and hospitality sector, the total inclusive tourism market is worth more than £12bn, with families that include someone with a disability proven to stay longer and spend more.

Under the Equality Act 2010, businesses and service providers have to take reasonable steps to provide equal access to people with disabilities. Despite this, many businesses inadvertently prevent customers with disabilities from using their service in the same way as others by failing to make reasonable adjustments.

At Merlin Entertainments, our aim is to provide magical days out for all families, including the many guests with disabilities who visit our attractions. We want to be the attraction operator of choice for visitors with disabilities and, wherever possible, we strive to create environments that are welcoming for our guests and provide them with the information they need to plan their visits.

We’re proud that by the end of this year we’ll offer changing places at all our UK theme parks and we plan to roll out additional calming sensory rooms after the success of the first sensory room at Legoland Windsor Resort. Attractions such as SeaLife Sydney Aquarium have successfully trialled “quiet mornings” prior to opening hours, allowing families to explore at their own pace in an adjusted, sensory-friendly space.

Last year we issued more than 14,000 Merlin annual carer passes, allowing carers to accompany Merlin annual pass holders with disabilities to our UK attractions. At our latest attractions such as Legoland New York, which will open next year, accessibility is integral to the park development, with plans for two quiet rooms, two adult changing facilities, and wheelchair-accessible rides and attractions.

Although we have made great progress during the past few years in improving accessibility at our attractions, we also understand we can always do more. That’s why we actively listen to feedback from our visitors and are dedicated to reviewing our facilities on an ongoing basis.

As part of this we are an active member of the Business Disability Forum and I’m delighted we recently sponsored the Welcoming Disabled Customers Guide, which offers useful information to businesses on how best to cater for guests with disabilities.

As an organisation we want our teams to feel confident when welcoming all our guests. Customer-facing staff in particular play a key role in ensuring our attractions are as accessible as possible. We hope the clear information in the Welcoming Disabled Customers Guide will help Merlin employees and those of other consumer businesses understand a wide range of needs and conditions and feel confident in their ability to engage with disabled customers and provide great customer service.

The difference this makes to our guests is why we have made improving accessibility a priority. This is highlighted by the impact of our partner charity Merlin’s Magic Wand, which has provided more than 600,000 tickets to Merlin attractions around the world, providing magical days out for families with children suffering serious illness, disability or adversity.

Being able to welcome everyone is what we do best, and that benefits Merlin as well as the many people with disabilities who come to have a fun day out with us.
Nick Varney is chief executive of Merlin Entertainments

Junk food jingos by Paul Chase

When I was a teenager in the late 1960s there were limited opportunities for those desperate to fill their lives with hopeless causes – one of them was CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). Campaigning to eradicate nuclear weapons is a noble cause, no doubt, but their proliferation since the 1960s demonstrates campaigning to “ban the bomb” hasn’t a remote chance of success. However, for cause-oriented activists that’s the point, isn’t it? A noble cause that offers a journey without destination presents an opportunity for lifelong virtue-signalling.

In the 1960s the new “public health” movement emerged. What made it “new” was its proponents moved beyond tackling disease epidemics into the realm of preventing illnesses associated with modern lifestyles. Tobacco regulations set the template, bringing with it the realisation this model could be rinsed and repeated. Next up was the demonisation of alcohol, with all the slanted statistics and contrived mathematical models that are still used to disguise the essentially puritanical nature of this endeavour. Slowly it has become apparent there’s a smorgasbord of causes available for the morally indignant. From tobacco to alcohol to fizzy drinks and now “junk food” – the number of potential causes is limited only by the number of letters in the alphabet and, so far, we’re only at F.

But what is “junk-food” and why are people, ranging from London mayor Sadiq Khan (Labour) to health secretary Matt Hancock (Tory) so keen to ban its advertising and put calorie caps on how much of it we’re allowed to eat? People would probably consider burgers, doner kebabs and French fries as obvious examples of junk food. However, look at the small print surrounding items banned from advertising on the London transport network and the government’s proposed advertising ban before the 9pm watershed and you’ll see it goes much further.

What the mayor and health secretary are both using to decide what falls foul of the junk-food advertising ban is something called the Nutrient Profiling Model. This was devised by activist academic Professor the Reverend Mike Raynor, who claims the Almighty was “calling me to work towards the introduction of soft drinks taxes in this country”. Raynor has now been hired by the government to evaluate the success of the sugary drinks levy. God is on his side. You couldn’t make it up.

Under Raynor’s model, “junk food” is defined as any food high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS). So as well as pizza, burgers, sweets, milkshakes and fizzy drinks, HFSS covers a huge range of food most people wouldn’t consider junk food – bacon, most sausages, cheese (including half-fat cheese), raisins, sultanas, mustard, soy sauce, marmalade, honey, sweetened fruit juice, butter, margarine and olive oil. Oh, and lest I forget, most breakfast cereals (including those high in fibre), baked beans, Marmite, most yogurts and peanut butter! It would be easier to list the foods for which advertising hasn’t been banned than list all those that are HFSS. 

Farmdrop, a company that describes itself as an “ethical grocer”, has had an advert banned by Transport for London because it features photos of bacon and butter. Bacon is high in saturated fat and salt, while butter is high in saturated fat and calories. So for health campaigners these natural products are both junk food.

We’re living in world in which knife crime is proliferating, particularly in London, and adverts featuring photos of butter, bacon, raisins or burgers are considered too dangerous to put on billboards or be seen by children on television.

There seems no limit to how far the puritans of public health will go to protect us from our appetites! We’ll probably still be arguing about this nonsense when Brexit is solved!
Paul Chase is director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy 

What it says on the tin by Elton Mouna

The updated Portman Group “Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks” was published this week. Portman Group is the not-for-profit organisation funded by UK drinks producers and, in a nutshell, exists to ensure marketing produced by UK drinks producers does exactly what it says on the tin... or bottle... or case. With Portman Group’s beady eye on things, no company worth its salt would dare claim, as others before them have, their product “gives you strength” or is “good for you”, while most would have second thoughts on telling you it “works wonders” or indeed “refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach”. 

Portman Group has made a huge contribution to ensuring alcohol advertising in the UK is decent, honest and responsible. Admittedly there are still breaches to the guidelines – Black Cow Vodka created the particularly ill-advised tagline “so smooth you can drink it until the cows come home”. There are also, of course, many examples of deliberately controversial marketing from attention-seekers such as BrewDog, with its “Pink IPA Beer For Girls” campaign an example. However, even the Scottish brewer and retailer has indicated a move away from its “OMG look at me, look at me” approach to marketing, with plans to ditch those tactics in favour of more responsible marketing after admitting some campaigns had been “ill-advised” and “inappropriate”. Good on you Portman Group, you played a part in this.

You would have to go back more than a decade to see products such as Deco, a 275cl bottle of Kronenbourg 1664 with a 25ml chaser of absinthe strapped to the bottle. It was also more than a decade ago when Portman Group severely rapped the knuckles of the brand owners of Raw Passion as it upheld this complaint: “The label has a block drawing of a naked woman with two lemons as her chest which, when taken with the sexual nature of the drink’s name and the straplines on the container ‘release your passion’ and ‘let the juices flow’, has very explicit sexual connotations.” Oh dear. 

Things have significantly changed since Portman Group came along. Yes, there is a bit of ding-dong going on between the group and SIBA at the moment regarding new guidelines of non-sealable containers and alcohol content. I believe the Portman Group message is more along the lines “K in large quantities is not OK” and is aiming to reduce the damage caused by over-drinking K and other super-strength cider and beer. In spreading this message perhaps Portman Group has overlooked the fact craft brewers like nothing more than creating a higher-strength, top-quality beer in an arty can that can be shared and savoured. Both sides will sort it out as Mike Benner and his SIBA team have a sensible approach and, from what I understand, a good dialogue with Portman Group.

There’s much more I want to say on the subject but with all this talk of naming, packaging and promoting alcoholic drinks I have just had an idea and must end this Friday Opinion piece rather abruptly as I need to hot-foot it to the trademark registry office before someone else thinks of it. My idea? A beer called Responsibly. I even have a tagline: “Please Drink Responsibly.” 
Elton Mouna is managing director of privately owned London pubs collective Remarkable Pubs – and is recruiting for top-notch management couples for two acquisitions. Email elton@remarkablePubs.co.uk 

Making sustainability count by Helen McMillan

If anyone requires proof that climate change is real they need look no further than recent UK weather as it goes from one extreme to the other – sunshine and sandals to driving wind and snow!  

We all have responsibility to care for our planet, and the foodservice industry is no exception. The total amount of waste, including food, packaging and other “non-food” waste produced each year by hospitality and foodservice sector outlets, is 2.87 million tonnes. Of this, 920,000 tonnes of food is wasted at outlets annually – 75% of which is avoidable – costing the sector £2.5bn per year (source: WRAP).

The sector is making progress in terms of tackling sustainability issues, according to a new report by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, but the pace of change is nowhere near fast or widespread enough. The facts are if the foodservice industry reduced food waste by one quarter it could cut its carbon emissions by almost one million tonnes a year. 

That may sound like a tall order but an obvious way everyone can contribute is by avoiding waste in the first place. By simply doing what you should be doing for the good of your margin – running a tight ship and getting your stock and order processes right – you will help the planet. It doesn’t require huge investment or change, it just requires a little extra focus and effort on many of the systems and processes you already have.  

It may not be new but the difference you can make through small, incremental improvements in your stock and order processes can be exciting. Sustainability benefits can be achieved in terms of reducing packaging, food waste and CO2 omissions, to name a few. When combined, these incremental savings stack up to not only make a significant contribution to the bottom line but also to the corporate and social responsibility objectives your customers increasingly expect of you.

A key fundamental to becoming a sustainable business is having access to real-time data on purchase volumes and stock levels together with the ability to control the purchasing of every outlet. For example, if you design a menu that considers the carbon footprint of its products coupled with minimising the risk of waste through stock control, kitchen management and portion sizes, you will be doing your bit for the planet. 

If we look at animal agriculture, it contributes to about 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases, of which 65% comes from beef and dairy cattle, giving it a hefty carbon footprint. Cows also produce methane, which is a harmful greenhouse gas. In many countries deforestation when clearing land for cattle is also contributing to climate change. By reducing the number of beef options on the menu and sourcing responsibly, you can help achieve the cumulative gains required to make a big difference. 

There are also those “throw-away” ingredients such as tinned tomatoes and baked beans, which are low value and may be considered okay to waste. However, by being more careful you could significantly reduce packaging waste and do your bit for the planet by preventing tins and food being sent to landfill or for incineration.

Taking control of your stock and order processes not only means you’ll contribute to your environmental goals but you will also add to your bottom line through marginal gains. When consistently implemented, we have seen improvements on margins ranging from anything between 3% and 8%. 

Being both environmentally and financially savvy is something we all need to grapple with, but it’s not rocket science. Knowing the “boring stuff” – comprehensive systems underpinned by solid processes delivering accurate, timely information that is constantly reviewed and regarded – is the foundation for success. 

Operators owe it to themselves to get these fundamentals right but there is a far greater environmental goal they must also play a part in delivering. It’s a whole new way of thinking about the importance of getting “difficult and dull” processes in place, which should inspire and engage everyone from the boardroom to the back office, the big-budget party organiser to the Friday night regular.

We need to open our eyes and have a detailed picture of all our operations to manage costs effectively, from utilities to ingredients to people. It has never been easier to paint this picture through integrated technology so data can be aggregated quickly to create real-time data analysis and comprehensive reporting in an easy-to-understand format. 

In our brave new world, it’s about having the right level of detail to make sure sustainability counts.
Helen McMillan is Zonal’s director of online commerce

 
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