TIME food and drink

Brits to Get Cheaper Beer! (If They Can Still Find a Pub to Sell It)

A pint of beer stands on a bar in a pub in Liverpool northern England, Nov. 19 , 2014.
A pint of beer stands on a bar in a pub in Liverpool northern England, Nov. 19 , 2014. Phil Noble—Reuters

New law would break the chains that tie pub landlords to big parent companies

It’s always been the most reliable vote-winner in British politics, even ahead of bashing foreigners and flinging money at the National Health Service.

But a late-night vote in Westminster last night may have actually paved the way for cheaper beer in pubs, as members of parliament voted to end the so-called ‘beer tie’ system, which forces landlords to buy beer from their parent companies at above-market prices, and stops them from offering competing brews.

That’s the headline-grabbing part, of course. The reality of the situation is, sadly, much less clear. The Beer Tie is only one half of an arrangement under which the parent groups (which have mainly grown out of Britain’s big breweries) offer low property rents, cheap insurance and other centralized services in return.

Under an amendment to the existing law, landlords will now have the right to ask for a rent-only deal, under which they would have the freedom to buy beer from whoever they choose at the best price they can find.

The pub companies were up in arms over the vote Wednesday, saying it would threaten the existence of thousands of pubs up and down the country

Punch Taverns Plc, whose shares fell 12.3% in early trading, warned the amended bill “would have significant adverse consequences for Britain’s community pubs” if it becomes law.

“The government’s own research indicated that breaking the tie would…result in between 700 and 1,400 more pubs closing with 3,700 to 7,000 job losses,” Punch said. It added that it would also lead to reduced investment in pubs, less consumer choice and “higher fixed rents, reduced levels of support and greater risk of failure” for tenants.

Enterprise Inns, Punch’s biggest rival, called the amendment “disproportionate” and said it would have “serious unintended consequences.” Its shares lost 15% on the news.

By contrast there was rejoicing at the U.K.’s Federation of Small Businesses, which has led a nationwide campaign against the Beer Tie.

FSB chairman John Allan said the vote marked “a historic day for tied publicans who look forward to a more open and competitive marketplace.”

Greg Mulholland, a Liberal Democrat MP who championed the amendment, called the vote “a victory for people power, for commonsense and for fairness and a victory a huge hard pressed publicans and their customers.”

Thousands of pubs closed in the recession that followed the financial crisis, many of them in rural communities where they were the hub of social activity. The Campaign for Real Ale, which supported the motion, says closures were still running at around 30 a week in the first half of this year.

The amendment still needs to go through the House of Lords to become law. The government, which had opposed the amendment and which only lost the vote because dozens of its own MPs revolted, may use the Lords to block the amendment and force another reading in the House of Commons.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY food and drink

Here’s Why Starbucks Will Just Keep Growing

Customers line up at a Starbucks Coffee in New York.
Mark Lennihan—AP

Starbucks is moving quickly in pursuit of several major growth opportunities.

Over the past two decades, Starbucks Corporation STARBUCKS CORP. SBUX 1.9949% has become almost synonymous with coffee. Today, Starbucks operates more than 20,000 stores across dozens of countries.

Considering how large Starbucks has become, it might seem that the company’s rapid growth can’t continue much longer. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Starbucks has plenty of opportunities to continue growing at a healthy pace for decades to come.

Starbucks wraps up a strong year

Starbucks recently reported its financial results for the 2014 fiscal year, which ended in late September. For the full year, Starbucks added 1,599 stores to its worldwide footprint and comparable store sales rose 6%. That boosted revenue by 11% to more than $16.4 billion.

Starbucks’ full-year adjusted EPS grew 21% year over year to $2.66, helped by strong margin performance. The company also projected that adjusted EPS will reach $3.08-$3.13 in fiscal year 15, which translates to 16%-18% growth.

Growing beyond coffee

One big growth initiative at Starbucks has been boosting non-coffee sales. In 2012, Starbucks purchased Bay Area bakery La Boulange in order to add more food items to its menu.

The chainwide rollout of La Boulange food items has been bumpy — some customers preferred the old Starbucks bakery selection — but it has still been successful overall. Food sales have been growing at a faster pace than the rest of the company, driven by strong sales of breakfast sandwiches. Starbucks recently added new lunch sandwich offerings to stimulate additional growth.

Starbucks is also starting to expand its Starbucks Evenings concept. Starbucks began testing the sale of wine, beer, and small-plate appetizers after 4 p.m. at a single Seattle location in 2010. The company has since expanded the pilot to several dozen locations.

Starbucks plans to add hundreds of Starbucks Evenings locations in 2015. In the long run, thousands of Starbucks stores could feature the Starbucks Evenings menu, driving strong sales growth in the less busy late-afternoon and evening hours.

Lastly, Starbucks has been doubling down on tea since the acquisition of Teavana in late 2012. Globally, tea is even more popular than coffee, and it represents a $90 billion market. Starbucks is adding tea bars to existing Teavana stores to boost sales of prepared beverages. It is also selling certain Teavana branded beverages in Starbucks stores.

These investments are starting to pay off, as Starbucks saw more than 20% growth in iced tea sales over the summer. Ultimately, CEO Howard Schultz wants to make Teavana the Starbucks of tea, and sees a tremendous growth opportunity there.

Mobile order and pay

Starbucks revealed yet another potential game changer last month when it announced plans to roll out mobile order and pay functionality chainwide in 2015. Customers will be able to place orders in advance and pick up their orders without waiting in line. Starbucks describes it as the urban answer to the convenience of drive-through.

Beginning next year, Starbucks will also use this platform to offer delivery in some top urban markets. Schultz’s vision is that a customer could place a standing food or drink order and have it delivered to his or her desk every day. If this concept takes off, it will represent a huge long-term differentiator — and growth driver — for Starbucks.

Lots of ways to grow

Starbucks is moving quickly in pursuit of several major growth opportunities. Investors should recognize that some of these growth initiatives are bound to be more successful than others.

However, the bottom line is that Starbucks has lots of irons in the fire, and many paths to producing significant long-term growth. (In addition to the store-based initiatives mentioned here, Starbucks is rapidly growing its consumer packaged goods business.)

Starbucks shares currently trade at about 25 times projected 2015 earnings. That still represents a premium to the broader market, but one that is easily justified by Starbucks’ numerous growth opportunities and its leading position in digital engagement. For long-term investors, Starbucks stock could be a great bargain today.

TIME celebrities

Who Wants a Piece of This Life-Sized Jennifer Lawrence Cake?

There's also one of Tyrion Lannister from 'Game of Thrones'

A British baker named Lara Clarke won gold at the Cake International contest for her life-sized cake version of Jennifer Lawrence as The Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen. In case that didn’t work out, she had a back-up plan: another entry consisting of a cake version of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones.

Clarke, who taught herself to bake a couple of years ago by watching YouTube tutorials, has became an expert quickly— she’s also made roughly human-sized cakes of Miley Cyrus and Johnny Depp. “At the time I was watching Pirates of the Caribbean,” she told the BBC back in 2013. “I was watching Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, and I thought he would make the perfect cake.”

After using up 150 eggs, 22 pounds of butter and 132 pounds of icing to make Jennifer Lawrence, it looks like she’s got enough cake to last her until Mockingjay — Part 1 hits theaters.

MONEY groceries

Why Amazon Wants to Deliver Your Groceries

AmazonFresh delivery, San Francisco, CA.
SiliconValleyStock—Alamy

Amazon's next target: The place where you do 20% of your spending.

Selling groceries is a horrible business. Competition is stiff. Margins are tight. And it’s heavily capital intensive.

You’d be excused, in other words, for wondering why a company like Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN 0.6323% is so intent on not only selling groceries, but on delivering them to your doorstep the same day you order them.

I’m referring to AmazonFresh, the e-commerce giant’s grocery-delivery subsidiary. Launched in Seattle in 2007, the service has now expanded to include Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City.

While perplexing, my guess is that the source of Amazon’s interest is actually quite simple. Namely, aside from sales of general merchandise, groceries make up the next largest category of retail sales excluding car sales.

In 2013, total grocery sales in the United States added up to $580 billion. By contrast, sales of general merchandise (Amazon’s bread and butter) totaled $653 billion. Meanwhile, the third-largest category, building materials and garden equipment, came in at $312 billion.

On a percentage basis, this means that nearly 20% of all domestic retail sales are associated with groceries. Thus, for a company that aspires to be the “everything store,” it seems obvious they’re a necessary offering.

amazonfresh_large

It’s worth noting, moreover, that Amazon’s desire to tap into the grocery business fits snugly into its emerging business model, which is in the process of fundamentally altering the retail landscape as we know it.

Over the last five years, the Seattle-based company has accelerated the construction of fulfillment centers across the United States. At present, it now has mammoth facilities perched on the outskirts of nearly every major metropolitan area in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Aside from reducing the time it takes to dispatch goods from warehouses to customers, this positions Amazon to wage a direct assault on a host of once-sheltered brick-and-mortar retailers.

Large appliances serve as a perfect example. When Amazon only operated a handful of fulfillment centers in places like Kentucky, Delaware, Indiana, and Washington, it wasn’t feasible to ship a refrigerator to a customer in Dallas. But now that Amazon has a 1-million-square-foot facility in neighboring Fort Worth, that barrier has largely been eliminated.

It stands to reason that any retailer even remotely vulnerable to disruption is now within Amazon’s crosshairs. And first and foremost among these are businesses like grocery stores that shoulder the expense of owning or leasing high-priced real estate in densely populated areas.

Does this mean grocery stores will soon go the way of the dodo bird? No, not completely at least, as Amazon’s ability to generate a reasonable rate of return from AmazonFresh remains to be seen. At the same time, it doesn’t require an extraordinary leap of faith to assume that Amazon will find a way to crack this nut and begin devouring yet another large category of retail sales.

TIME food and drink

5 Things You Need To Know About Japanese Whisky

Food Japanese Whisky
From left are Hibiki 12-year-old, Yamazaki 18 and 12-year-old Japanese whiskys at the Rickhouse bar in San Francisco, Aug. 6, 2010. Eric Risberg—AP

A single-malt from Japan has been named the best whisky in the world for the first time. Here's why you shouldn't be all that surprised

The whisky world was shocked on Tuesday, when it was announced that the 2015 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible had named Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the best whisky in the world — the first time the honor has gone to a whisky from Japan. Even more of a shock, particularly to the Scottish who pride themselves on their whisky, for the first time in the 12 years the Whisky Bible has been published, not a single Scotch made the top five.

But perhaps the surprise is unwarranted. After all, Japanese whisky has been a rising star in the spirits world for some time now. So, in honor of the big win, here are five things you should know about Japanese whisky.

It’s The New Kid on the Block — Japanese whisky has been commercially produced since since the early 1920s, when the Yamazaki distillery was first built near Kyoto. Throughout the 20th century, Japanese whiskies were primarily sold and consumed within Japan, yet they’ve become increasingly popular in Europe and North American in recent years.

Production — Japanese whiskies were first modelled on Scottish whiskies — Suntory’s first master distiller Masataka Taketsuru studied in Scotland and wanted to bring the drink home — so they are produced in much the same way, distilled twice using pot stills. Many distilleries even use malted and sometimes peated barley imported from Scotland.

About That Missing “E” — As Japanese whisky has much in common with Scottish whiskies, rather than the Irish or American varieties, its name follows the Scotch tradition and is spelled without an “e.”

Pop Culture Moment — Japanese whisky makes a prominent appearance in 2003′s Lost in Translation. In the film, Bill Murrary’s character Bob Harris is a washed-up actor who heads to Japan to shill for Suntory whisky. Tag line: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

In real life, it was actually actor Sean Connery who appeared in Suntory commericals in the 1990s.

It’s a Winner – The World Whisky Bible coup isn’t the first time Japanese whisky has been recognized with an international award. In 2001, Nikka’s Yoichi whisky was named the “Best of the Best” in an international tasting by Whisky Magazine. Then, in 2003, Suntory’s 30-year-old Hibiki won the top award at the International Spirits Challenge and Suntory went on to earn awards at the competition for the next 11 years.

TIME Food & Drink

The World’s Best Whisky Has Been Named and Scotland is Displeased

Scotland doesn't even have a whisky in the world's top five

The best whisky in the world is “near indescribable genius.” It scores 97.5 marks out of 100. It is also not Scottish.

That’s according to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, a highly regarded ranking of fine global whisky. Specifically, reports the Telegraph, the top title belongs to Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, from Japan’s oldest whiskey distillery, Suntory, founded in 1923.

What’s more, for the first time in the 12 years the Whisky Bible has been published, not a single Scottish whisky makes the bible’s top five. If that wasn’t bad enough for Scotland, which along with Ireland is the spiritual home of the drink, the best European whisky in the latest edition is English.

The Whisky Bible describes the winning Yamazaki whisky as “rich and fruity,” with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice.” Just 18,000 bottles were made — it is sold out on the bible’s online shop, and it is available in just a few specialist shops in the U.K. for about $160.

American whiskies take second and third prize, including repeat second-place winner William Larue Weller, a Kentucky bourbon.

So what about auld Scotland? A Scottish whisky — the 19-year-old single malt Glenmorangie Ealanta — took the top spot just last year, also getting 97.5 marks.

But the book’s author, Jim Murray, writes that though hundreds of Scottish whiskies were among the more than 1,000 samples he tried from all around the world this year, they fell flat.

“Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?,” he wonders, calling this year’s rankings a “wake up call” for Scottish brands.

Ron Taylor, an independent wine and spirit judge and educator, tells TIME it’s no surprise that a Japanese whiskey took first place in Murray’s list, since Japanese whiskies regularly win prestigious competitions, even in Scotland.

Still, Taylor also said that rankings often reflect the taster’s personal preferences. Indeed, Taylor describes Japanese single malts as like a Lexus —“beautifully crafted, no vibration, smooth, consistent and always pleasing” — while their Scottish counterparts are more akin to a Maserati.

“The Scottish whiskeys, they’ll knock you around and slap you around the face a little bit,” says Taylor, who is from Scotland, but calls himself “a non partisan” drinker.

He also notes that Suntory, which makes the winning Japanese whiskey, also produces whiskey brands around the world — including, in fact, multiple Scottish whiskies.

[The Telegraph]

Read next: The Best Whiskey Bars in America

MONEY Fast Food

Starbucks Wants to Deliver Coffee to Your Home

Starbucks is planning a new online and mobile service that will deliver coffee and snacks to your house or office.

TIME food and drink

30% of U.S. Shrimp Is Misrepresented, Study Says

Shrimp
Chicago Tribune—MCT/Getty Images

Labels like "wild" and "Gulf" are often inaccurate

Shrimp may be America’s most popular seafood, but that doesn’t mean we know much about the crustaceans on our plates.

A new study by Oceana, a marine conservation advocacy group, finds that 30% of shrimp products are misrepresented — either mislabeled as the wrong species, called or implied to be “wild” when in fact it was farmed, or mixed in a bag with various species. In one instance, the researchers found an aquarium species not meant for human consumption that was mixed in with frozen wild shrimp.

Misrepresentation varied by region; in Portland, Ore., where shrimp are especially popular, only 5% were labeled in a misleading way. In New York City, of the grocery stores that were visited for the study, 67% sold shrimp that was misrepresented.

The issue stems in part from a lack of general information available when purchasing these products, the researchers said. In many cases, retailers and restaurants don’t offer information about the shrimp’s species or country of origin, or whether it was farmed or caught in the world. Oceana argues that improving traceability of seafood would help decrease label fraud and enable consumers to make sustainable choices.

TIME food and drink

Let Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein Tell You How to Drink Your Coffee

“The most important thing is just enjoy your coffee, have lots of snacks”

Coffee is no laughing matter. “You have to go in with the graveness and seriousness of a court date, of a wedding, of a funeral,” says Carrie Brownstein, who joined her Portlandia costar Fred Armisen on an episode of the Cooking Channel’s web series “You’re Eating it Wrong.”

The video is light on actual tips for preparation, focusing more on coffee shop etiquette: how to order, tip and engage in serious conversation with a friend by using your mug as a prop to convey the gravity of what you’re saying.

Armisen and Brownstein appeared on the show to promote The Portlandia Cookbook, which features real recipes inspired by the absurd food-related sketches on their show (chickens raised on an organic cult, to name just one example).

Portlandia has, not surprisingly, taken on coffee as one of its Portland-centric parodies. An episode from the third season has Brownstein and Armisen leading an underground meeting of bearded baristas drafting a manifesto intended to “protect us as the artists that we are.” It’s only fitting, then, that they teach us how to be good consumers of one of their city’s finest provisions.

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