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Tue 17th Apr 2012 - Pub People, G&R Leisure and a VAT cut

Story of the day:

Pub People Company launches craft beer bar: Pub People Company, the 46-strong East Midlands operator led by Kevin Sammons, has launched a craft beer bar at its flagship cask ale site, the Lion in Basford, near Nottingham. The pub, a freehold acquired from Batemans a few years ago, majors on cask ale and live music - and the introduction of a craft beer bar was seen as a “natural progression”. Beers stocked include Brewdog Punk IPA, Freedom Stout and Freedom Organic Dark Lager. Operations director Andy Crawford said: “It’s important to innovate and stay ahead of the game.” He added that the craft beer bar was working well in terms of attracting interest from female drinkers and students as well as cask ale regulars. The company has also commissioned four exclusive beers from Nottingham Brewery in the past year. Three of the beers - Summer Daze, Magic Moon and Everlasting Light – have been seasonal one-offs. But next Monday, on St George’s Day, the company launches Sir Blondeville 1194 - a pale 4 per cent abv beer produced exclusively for the company by Nottingham Brewery – at the Lion, before being rolled out across 25 sites operated by the company. Crawford said Sir Blondeville provided the company with its own beer brand, not available at competitors’ venues. The Lion sells at total of eleven cask ales and five ciders. 

Industry news:

VAT reduced to five per cent on Scottish ski lift passes: A reduction in VAT on ski lift passes in Scotland was among the small print of the Budget last month. The government has decided to cut the current 20 per cent rate of VAT on ski lifts to just 5 per cent. The new rate will start from 2013 and brings VAT on ski lift passes into line with the majority of Europe. It is a campaign that Scottish ski centres and local politicians have been fighting for almost a decade. Other forms of public transport has a zero rating for VAT - including the funicular railway that is the key uplift at Cairngorm. The VAT cut for lift tickets will mean that VAT is charged at a lower rate than at a number of major ski nations. Exactly when the reduced rate will be introduced in 2013 has not been specified. Jacques Borel, leader of the hospitality industry campaign to reduce VAT to five per cent, said: “The reduction in VAT for Scottish ski lift passes is to be welcomed. It establishes the principle that VAT levels should be reduced if Britain’s hospitality industry is to remain competitive with the rest of Europe. “It is also a targeted way of creating jobs. We believe that the government could create as many as 320,000 jobs by cutting VAT from 20 per cent to five per cent on food, drink and accommodation in the UK. I’m sure a VAT cut on ski lift passes will attract more visitors to the Scottish snowfields, but a wider VAT cut within the sector would be a vastly more potent stimulus for the economy.”

Pub and restaurant sales bounce-back in March: Pub and restaurant groups saw a modest bounce-back in food and drink sales during March, after a shaky start to 2012. Collective like-for-like sales were up 1.9 per cent on the same month last year, following negative figures for both January and February. Total sales in March, which include the effect of new openings, were ahead 6.3 per cent on last year. The figures come from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, the industry sales monitor for the UK pub and restaurant sector, which collects monthly performance data from 24 operating groups. “The good weather will certainly have helped trading, particularly in the pub market, which performed more strongly than high street restaurants,” said Peter Martin of Peach Factory, the business intelligence specialist that produces the sector Tracker, in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group. “The sector will be relieved to see some growth back in the system, after seeing like-for-like sales drop 2.1 per cent in January and 3.7 per cent in February. Luckily both are weak trading months, so seeing sales pick up in the run up to Easter will be welcome,” added Martin. “March’s figures essentially put the sector back on an even keel.”

Businessman launches Olympics access petition: A businessman who claims the Olympics are a “survival threat” to hundreds of small businesses is planning to take his battle with Games organisers to the Government. Michael Spinks, who runs Hackney-based food distributors Essex Flour & Grain Co, has launched a petition to ask for “freedom of access” to business premises located near the Olympics Park in east London during the Olympics and Paralympic Games. 

Ann Widdecombe calls for binge drinkers to be named and shamed: Ann Widdecombe has called on police to crack down on binge drinkers by prosecuting every drunk they pick up. She argues that the law needs to be used “to bring a sense of shame” in an attempt to stop people drinking excessively and behaving badly. Widdecombe called for “the occasional big blitz on a Friday night, pursuing every single person who was drunk in A&E or incapable on the streets”.

London set for bumper tourism year: London & Partners, the official promotional organisation for London, forecasts that 2012 will be a bumper year for leisure tourism in the capital. The figures from Tourism Economics indicate that 12.7m overnight leisure visitors, both overseas and domestic are expected to come and stay in London during 2012 - the figure is up 5.2 per cent on numbers in 2011.

Pub switches to turbine power: The highest pub in Cumbria has gone green after switching-on the first wind turbines in the Lake District national park. The Kirkstone Pass Inn is now powered by its own turbines – the first to be granted permission by the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA). Three years ago, owner John Jennings put the pub on the market because of soaring fuel and maintenance costs for the diesel generators used to provide electricity. Jennings said wind turbines were needed to provide power for the business, which is off-grid and relies on diesel-fed generators. At the time, the LDNPA opposed the idea but in December granted permission for the £150,000 development. The pub is now to be run by daughter Claire Green and her husband Roy.

Company news:

Douglas Jack – we prefer Marston’s to Greene King: Numis Securities analyst Douglas Jack has advised that share-buyers add Greene King shares ahead of next Monday’s Greene King trading statement – he has a share price target of 535p. But comparing Greene Kin with Marston’s he added: “Both companies offer similar profit before tax growth (of eight to nine per cent ) but with Greene King being more reliant on making acquisitions and increasing debt we prefer Marston’s organic growth, underpinned by higher return new build expansion.”

Benito’s Hat plans four openings this year: Benito’s Hat, the Mexican food concept with four sites founded by Ben Fordham and Ed David, has slated four more openings for this year. The company, which has a turnover of £2.5m, has opened a site on the western concourse of the King’s Cross station. Fordham said: “King’s Cross has also been a big step for visibility, it’s a statement of intent. The early signs are very positive — I think that this could open a lot of very exciting opportunities for us in transport hubs in the coming years.”

Brasserie Blanc to open in St Albans: Brasserie Blanc is to open a restaurant in St Albans city centre in July. The venue will open in two empty units in Verulam Road. Raymond Blanc said: "We are very excited to be opening a Brasserie Blanc in such a vibrant city. I am looking forward to visiting the city to learn more about its culture and to talk to some of the local food producers in the area." Two weeks ago, Morning Briefing revealed that JD Wethersoon had sold one of its two venues in St Albans to focus on its larger site. Brasserie Blanc also has openings lined up for Covent Garden, Bath, Bekhamstead and Farnham in 2012.

Food sales lead the way at Marks and Spencer: Food sales at Marks and Spencer jumped 3.1 per cent in the 13 weeks to 31 March, with healthy food “performing well” – group sales were up just 0.9 per cent. The company said: “In food, we performed well in a very competitive market and against tough comparatives. We continued our focus on innovation launching circa 500 new products in the quarter. Our promotions provided our customers with great value solutions for special times of the year such as Valentine's Day Dine In, which was our record one to date. We held the highest share of the market for healthy eating through the quarter with our Simply Fuller Longer range as the market leader.”

G&R Leisure plans Bolton site: G&R Leisure, which opened its first up-market site in Bury at the start of the year, has revealed it plans to open a second site in Bolton in August this year. The company wants to transform the former Norton Barrie shop, on the corner of Bradshawgate and Princess Street, into 101 Bar. G&R Leisure’s 26-year-old owner Gary Price said: “The Bury one just took off and I think now is the time to go for it in Bolton. We’ve got the right crowd into the Bury bar and it brings a bit of Manchester sophistication to Bury, and that’s what we want to bring to Bolton.” As part of its upmarket profile, the company imposes a strict dress code with no hats, hoodies, man bags, trainers and “sparkly tops”.

Micro brewer wins accolade for first pub: Acorn Brewery, based in Wombwell, Yorkshire, has won CAMRA’S local pub of the year award for its first pub, Old No 7, which was re-opened seven months ago. Pub owners Dave and Judi Hughes ploughed £180,000 into restoring the Grade II-listed property, and re-opened it last August. The Old No 7 had been closed by Enterprise Inns in 2010.

Christie + Co opens Dublin office: Property transfer agent Christie + Co is opening an office in Dublin - its 13th international office. The office will be headed by Maureen Doyle. Maureen has been with Christie + Co for over five years, working with the corporate hotels team in London.

JD Wetherspoon opens £1.3m pub in Crosby: Wetherspoon opens its new pub in Crosby today on the site of a former furniture store. The pub features pictures of Titanic captain Joseph Bruce Ismay who lived on nearby Marine Crescent. It will be called The Queen’s Picture House because the premises was once the location of a cinema. Burnley-based Moorhouse’s Brewery have produced a house ale for the pub, a golden ale called The Old Projectionist (ABV 4.8 per cent), named after Bill Billington who was once a projectionist the former cinema.

Derby’s largest nightclub closes: The largest nightclub in Derby, Syn, with a 2,000 capacity, has closed its doors. A staff member told the Derby Evening Telegraph: "We had people coming in and then going home at midnight because they had run out of money. We dropped drink prices to 99p but then our rivals did the same.” The venue has previously been known as Blu Bambu, Destiny and Elite and The Pink Coconut.

JD Wetherspoon assistant manager jailed for four months: A Wetherspoon assistant manager who stole more than £20,000 in seven months has been jailed for four months. Ashley Sheppard, 28, stole cash from pubs in Hinckley, Nuneaton and Solihull, where he had been working as assistant manager. Sheppard, formerly of Deveran Court, Hinckley, falsely entered that vouchers had been used towards payments and then pocketed the difference. He pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to three charges of theft from JD Wetherspoon.

Cromer operators take on second venue: A group of Cromer business partners have re-opened a Cromer pub after a £200,000 refurbishment. The former Dolphin overlooking the resort’s pier, has resurfaced as Bella Vista, a modern bar, bistro and restaurant run by a team which has also transformed another of the town’s venues. Callum Stuart, Jo Alger, Richard Millar and Carol Prior have put their stamp on The Red Lion through major refurbishments over the past two years, but then saw The Dolphin was on the market and spotted the potential. “We always said that if we were successful we would not stop at one business,” said Stuart. “When I walked in to the old Dolphin the views were stunning, and there was a gap in the market in Cromer for an Italian offering something a bit different.”

Micro-brewer opens first pub: Suffolk-based lager brewer Calvors has opened its first pub. The Rampant Horse at Needham Market is offering a wide range of locally-sourced food and drink, including Calvors lagers which are brewed nearby at Coddenham Green. Calvors founder Alec Williamson said: “We are delighted to have acquired our first public house. At The Rampant Horse we intend to provide a warm, friendly environment with good pub food, fresh ground coffees, real ales and of course our own lagers! “We will be offering products from in and around Suffolk for both food and drink to support local businesses and the community.”

The third ‘Fat Cat’ pub in Norwich due to open in six weeks: The Fat Cat Brewery will open its third pub in about six weeks’ time. Fat Cat Brewery boss Colin Keatley bought the freehold of The Mustard Pot in Thorpe Road. He also operates The Fat Cat in West End Street, which opened more than 20 years ago, and The Fat Cat Brewery Tap in Lawson Road. Keatley said: “The pub will also get a new name, which will include the words Fat Cat, but I’m not yet revealing what the full name will be.”

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