Saturday, 18 April 2009


Chocolate sales have long been noted to hold up in a recession, supposedly because people turn from big ticket purchases to little treats to cheer themselves up. An article in Time magazine indicates this is a ‘sweet spot’ even now, with the chocolate sector resilient and major brands like Nestle, Lindt and Cadbury predicting growth for the year.

This year many manufacturers made a concerted effort to reduce the environmental impact of this growth by reducing the packaging on Easter themed chocolate confectionery in the UK. This can be multilayered card and plastic to protect the delicate mouldings of eggs and bunnies. It is estimated that packaging has been reduced by an average of 25 per cent. In the shops I saw Easter chocolate in every kind of shape from shoes to motorbikes to landmark buildings like Big Ben in London.

Bars of chocolate are cheaper weight for weight, as you don’t pay for so much packaging or for a load of air inside hollow shapes. Another tip for the cash strapped in the UK is to try cooking chocolate, which is VAT (Value Added Tax) free, unlike chocolate that is marketed as confectionery and has 15 per cent VAT slapped on. Cooking chocolate looks less fancy as it comes in functional chunky blocks. Although it may not look as luxurious it often has smoother and creamier texture. Frequently it contains a higher proportion of cocoa butter than confectionery chocolate, so it can easily be melted and made into shapes or spread on cakes.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Fair trade creates an olive branch

On 4th April I went to a talk by Hadas Lahav and Samia Nasser, who were visiting Leicester as part of their visit to the UK to raise awareness of Sindyanna. Founded in 1996, Sindyanna in a non-governmental organisation bringing together Arabs and Jews, working together helping farmers and producers in the Arab region of Galilee and the Occupied Territories develop markets for fair trade produce. This creation of economic opportunities and linkages helps develop solutions to the Middle East conflict.

Palestinian producers face tremendous difficulties in accessing markets due to movement restrictions, and have to contend with restricted water supply and damage to olive groves and crops, see info from War on Want. Sindyanna projects provide much needed secure employment for rural Arab women. Only 17 per cent of Arab women in Israel participate in the job market, and those in employment through contractors frequently receive just half of a legal salary.

The olive oil is extra virgin, from the first cold pressing, and some bottling equipment from Italy was purchased recently. In addition to formal trading relationships in developing supply chains for export, there is community involvement, such as volunteers helping with the olive harvest. This year olive oil sales are anticipated to reach 50 tonnes, exported to the US and many European countries including the UK, Austria and even Italy. Twenty Palestinian farmers have worked cooperatively on the expensive and complex process of gaining organic certification for a total of 100 dunan (100,000 square metres) of land.

The olive-oil soap is from Nablus in the West Bank, and sales should reach 60,000 bars this year. The producer has been unable to sell in Israel since 2000. To make its way to export markets has to pass through the Beit Furik military checkpoint. Other Sindyanna products include dried herb mixtures, honey, carob syrup and hand made basketwork. It is hoped that couscous will shortly be another addition to the range. Sindyanna also supports Arab artists and some of their work is featured in the 2010 Bread and Roses calendar.

Sindyanna has had IMO Social and Fair Trade Certification since 2006, in recognition of good conditions for workers and long-term trustful cooperation between trading partners, and is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization. They are looking for more markets for the products, so outlets like health food and fair trade shops might want to drop them a line.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

No more orchids from Taiwan

Just over two years ago, in February 2007, an ambitious new facility opened at Manchester Airport World Freight Centre, the Pangaean Freight Centre, for air freighted perishable produce - food, fruit vegetables, fish, flowers which require temperature control. The Pangaean Centre had big ambitions and Manchester Evening News reported that the centre was importing more than 600 boxes of herbs and watercress a week, and 100 rare orchids. Some of these orchids were from Taiwan.

The chilled handling facility was predicted to achieve a turnover of £1.5 million by 2010, and aimed to triple volumes from 6,000 tonnes in the first year to 18,000 tonnes in year two, and grow its pharmaceuticals business in addition to the food and flowers. Situated near Junction 6 of the M56 motorway it was in a prime position to access many of the major supermarkets distribution networks. Founder John Crofts was hailed for his business acumen including speaking at the international Air Cargo Handling conference in 2008.

But at the end of March 2009, Pangaean freight centre ceased trading. Three jobs have been lost, but it is remarkable that there was such a small number of jobs, for a facility of over 8,000 sq ft. The closure of the Pangaean Centre also raises the question of what has happened to the government loan that helped to establish it.

In the face of Pangaean’s failure, and freight volumes which have plummeted every month since April 2008, Manchester Airport still plans to increase freight volumes to 250,000 tonnes a year by 2015. The freight growth plans would entail the demolition of Rose Cottage, a listed building surrounded by a rare wildlife oasis in this heavily urbanised area, which includes a 300 year old pond with a colony of rare crested newts. The Save Rose Cottage Campaign is opposing this development.

The closure of the Pangaean Freight Centre does not necessarily mean that the UK is reducing its dependence on air freighted food and flower imports. Prepared fruit salads into Heathrow and fish to Gatwick are still holding up, and the UK is a key destination for prepared vegetables from Thailand landing at Munich in Germany, which are then shipped and trucked here.

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