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Wed 15th Aug 2012 - Absolute Pubs, Calco and Joule's Brewery

Story of the day:

OFT – minimum pricing will backfire: The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned that minimum pricing is likely to backfire because supermarkets will be encouraged to “sell more, not less” drink. The OFT has told MPs on the health select committee that it fears there will be harmful “unintended consequences” if the government pressed ahead with a 40p per unit of alcohol minimum price. The watchdog’s chief concern is that supermarkets will be handed an incentive to promote their cheapest ranges of drinks because they will provide the highest margins – the OFT pointed out that supermarkets will benefit from “additional profit for every unit of low-cost alcohol that they sell”. In its evidence, the OFT also argued that minimum pricing set a dangerous precedent in undermining the free market and produced a higher cost of living in France and Ireland when similar price controls were introduced. The OFT stated: “By legitimising intervention to control prices in a competitive market, it will be harder for the government to resist calls for similar measures in other parts of the retail sector in the future.” Finally, the OFT believes that a straightforward tax per unit would be better than minimum pricing as this would not encourage supermarket to sell more alcohol. The European Commission has already stated that it thinks “minimum tax rates to be preferable to minimum pricing for alcohol”.

Propel Opinion: The OFT opposition to minimum pricing is a double-edged sword. Its views are essentially in line with those people in the on-trade who insist minimum pricing will simply deliver more margin to the supermarkets. But in calling for more tax per unit a nightmare scenario begins to unfold whereby alcohol simply becomes more and more expensive across the board. 

Industry news:

July like-for-like sales down in pub and restaurant sector: The UK’s leading restaurant, pub and bar groups saw combined like-for-like sales dip marginally by 0.2 per cent in July compared with the same month last year, according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker data. It follows a 1.3 per cent like-for-like increase in June. Total sales across the 25 companies in the Tracker sample were up by 3.6 per cent on July 2011, however, reflecting the increasing market-share that major players continue to win in the domestic eating and drinking out market. “This is being driven by a consumer move towards brands, the importance of value as well as quality in customer choice and the continued roll-out of new sites by established operators,” said Peter Martin of Peach Factory, the business intelligence specialist that produces the sector Tracker, the sector’s biggest and most comprehensive performance barometer, in partnership with Coffer Group and UBS. “The weather has not helped progress this year,” Martin added, “but Tracker data still shows the annualised like-for-like sales growth rate for the leading groups is currently running at 2.2 per cent year-on-year, with total sales running at around 5.8 per cent up. This may be only in-line with inflation, but this sector is beating the economy as a whole when it comes to growth – and is something the government should perhaps recognise. There has been much speculation of the impact of the Olympic Games on the pub and restaurant market. Our July figures include the week running up to the opening ceremony and the first weekend, which was actually the worst performing week of the month, and the one that pushed an otherwise generally flat period into just negative territory,” said Martin. “However, the full impact will not be seen until the August figures are published, although we do know from provisional figures that for the market as a whole the first full week of the Games was marginally up on the same week last year.” This month’s figures also continue to show pub and pub restaurant operators delivering better like-for-like figures than high street casual dining. “This is most marked within the M25 where restaurant groups are up against increasingly intense and diverse competition. Pubs seem to be doing better in London, and are providing part of that competition,” observed Peter Martin.

Harden’s Guide editor wins Daily Telegraph grovel: Richard Harden, editor of the influential Harden’s Guide, has wrung a backtrack from The Daily Telegraph. Harden wrote to the Press Complaints Commission to complain that a restaurant review was inaccurate and misleading when it stated that Harden’s restaurant guides were “based on the number of letters it receives from the public extolling a particular place”. The complaint was resolved when the columnist wrote further on the matter in this groveling subsequent review: “A few weeks ago I gave Harden’s Guide a hard time, suggesting their recommendations could be improved if lots of people wrote in to extol a particular restaurant. Of course Harden’s doesn’t work like that: their inspectors, who are ordinary members of the public, must first be on their secret panel and some of their Yorkshire recommendations seem spot on.”

Australian on-trade follows UK path: New research on the Australian on-trade, by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), has shown 74 per cent of Australians drink alcohol at home or at a friend's house.The figures are in stark contrast to previous generations when 70 per cent of drinking was conducted in a pub or club.

Hunt - Olympics can turbo-charge UK tourism: The government is to mount a major push to “turbo-charge” the UK's tourism industry, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said. Chinese tourists will be targeted under a new strategy, with ministers hopeful the number of holidaymakers from the country will treble. Hunt said: “The Olympics have been for Britain what Usain Bolt is for athletics - something that grabs the attention of the whole world and refuses to let it go. From the wonder of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to the most incredible sporting achievements, the Games have been a fantastic showcase for our country. We must use this extraordinary year to turbo-charge our tourism industry, to create jobs and prosperity on the back of a globally-enhanced reputation.” The new strategy will involve an £8 million extension of the “Great” marketing campaign, including within China. DCMS thinks this has the potential to triple the number of Chinese tourists, generate more than £500 million in extra spending and create more than 14,000 new jobs. The government will also encourage Britons to take a break in the UK, investing £2 million in marketing domestic tourism, a figure that will be matched by the industry.

Speciality coffee on the rise in the US: Foodservice research company Technomic has found that speciality coffee is on the rise on US restaurant menus. The company’s second quarter of 2012 MenuMonitor - tracking the menus of more than 1,200 US restaurants, including the Top 500 chains, emerging concepts and leading independents— has found 16 per cent more speciality coffee drinks on the menus of fast-casual concepts than the prior year.

Johnson – always room for foodservice innovation: Risk Capital Partners boss Luke Johnson has argued that the foodservice sector provides enormous opportunity. He told London Loves Business: “Ambitious, clever people miss that it’s a great way to run your own business. There’s always innovation, there’s always room for new players to come along. London is the quarter of all that inventiveness, where 95 per cent of all the new ideas and the clever, fresh brands come from. The different cuisines, the original offerings, are independent. They’re not corporates or groups (which are) generally hopeless at coming up with the new ideas.” Johnson added that he wished the British attitude to the restaurant and hospitality sector was more like “in France, and to a degree Spain and Italy – they have a tradition of it being a long-term career and it’s taken rather more seriously”.

Police apologise to two Skegness venues: Lincolnshire police have formally apologised to two Skegness venues after they were forced to close one hour early when British Summer Time commenced in March this year and have awarded both venues £500 each as a gesture of goodwill. The LA Café and Grand Central are Skegness’s two late night venues normally open until 4.00am. Despite both premises being permitted to open until 4.00am and their premises licences stating ‘Non Standard Timings: An additional hour to the standard and non standard times when British Summer Time commences’ officers of Lincolnshire Police insisted the venues close one hour early. Both venues closed early and subsequently asked Kurnia Licensing Consultants to lodge formal complaints.

Westfield – two London sites will attract 60 million visitors this year: Westfield has reported it expects 60 million visitors to its two London shopping centres, which are 99 per cent let, this year. “Our most recent highlight was the performance of Stratford City that was showcased to the world during the London Olympics. In total, approximately 5.5 million visits were made to our centre in just over two weeks, giving the group an unprecedented exposure to a global audience,” chief executive Steven Lowy said. “The group’s two world class centres in London are, this year, expected to attract around 60 million customer visits spending some £1.8bn.” 

Company news:

Absolute Pubs joins the ALMR: Absolute Pubs, the four-strong multiple headed by Simon and Sarah Bailey, has joined the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. ALMR chief executive Nick Bish said: “Absolute Pubs are really making a mark and are typical of the new, innovative and utterly professional operators that are a feature of the landscape now. It’s great to have the company within ALMR and a perfect illustration of the case we make to government about the success and responsiveness of the industry today.” Simon Bailey said: “We thought that joining the ALMR is a great opportunity to meet people running businesses like ours and to share experiences. We’re looking forward to attending our first event.” Absolute Pubs recently opened its fourth pub, Flower Pot in Sunbury-on-Thames, a Brakspear pub, following a £250,000 refurbishment. In the past year, the ALMR has been boosted by the addition of major managed companies such as Spirit Pub Company, TGI Friday’s, JD Wetherspoon, Mitchells & Butlers, Amber Taverns, LT Pub Management and Intertain as well as a host of up-and-coming smaller multiples such as Noble Inns and Pebble Hotels. The trade body also absorbed the late-night trade body Beda in May. 

Calco Pubs – aim is to sell as a portfolio: Administrator for the 79-strong freehold Calco Pubs estate, based in the Midland and north England, will continue to trade it and attempt to sell it as a portfolio once trading has improved, an administrator’s report has stated. However, administrator Zolfo Cooper has stated it will also consider selling pubs individually if necessary. The company’s bank, AIB Group, a subsidiary of Allied Irish Bank, is owed £27.1m and so far Zolfo Cooper has realised £675,000 by selling off the freehold of Bridge Cross Working Men’s Club, in Burntwood to Aldi for £325,000, and surrendering the long-term lease of the former Yew Tree Sports and Social Club on the Sandwell and Walsall border for £350,000 – the latter has been demolished for housing. The company running the pubs for Zolfo Cooper, Asset Manager Solution has earned £215,000 since administration began in January. Zolfo Cooper had earned £269,949 by mid-July.

Joule’s Brewery partners businessman to buy Punch Pub: Joule’s Brewery has partnered businessman Danny Poole to buy Punch’s Berwick pub in Sneyd Green, Staffordshire. A total of £70,000 will be spent refurbishing the pub, which had looked likely to be converted to a McColl’s convenience store at one stage. Poole, who owns DWP and Sons Haulage, had an initial £210,000 bid for the pub rejected in April. Now an improved bid of £235,000 has secured the pub. During the campaign to save the pub, Danny parked one of his 45ft trailers at the venue's car park with a slogan urging people to get behind his fight. Joule’s, headed by Steve Nutall and based in Market Drayton, has an estate of 17 pubs. It has held its beer prices this year. The company states: “Our vision for our pubs, or rather ‘Brewery Taps’, is to create the very best houses we can. Each and everyone equal to any in the country, in the very best tradition of the Great British Pub, unique throughout the world.”

Malcolm John closures – a sign that VAT needs to come down: The closure of two of London’s best-known restaurants is a sign that VAT on eating out must come down, a local business leader has stated. Chef Malcolm John has closed Le Cassoulet in South Croydon – highly rated by Sunday Times food critic AA Gill – and Fish & Grill in Putney. Linda Arthur, secretary of the South Croydon Business Association, said: “This is disastrous, it is such a shame that such a prestigious restaurant could be closing down in the area. This is a reflection of the difficult times that restaurants and businesses are finding themselves in. This is yet another sign that VAT on restaurants needs to be brought down to help business owners.”

Mitchells & Butlers plans refurbishment for All Bar One in Chiswick: Managed operator Mitchells & Butlers will refurbish the All Bar One in Chiswick it had originally planned to convert to its new Tuk Cho Asian food concept. The premises was due to close in June, and it is understood the staff heard of the change of plan only a few days beforehand. A spokesman for Mitchells and Butlers said: “We reviewed our plans and believe that, given the profile of the local area, our Chiswick site would be better to remain as an All Bar One - but that it does require an investment to bring it back up to the high standards our guests would expect from All Bar One”. The refurbishment will include a new design for the beer patio, along with a new bar and kitchen.

Nightclub gets sex establishment licence at third time of asking: Warwick District Council’s regulatory committee voted by five to four in favour of granting Shades Gentleman’s Club in High Street, Old Town, a sex establishment licence which will allow lap dancing and pole dancing. Two previous applications were rejected in June 2011 and March this year. Amara VIP nightclub in the town’s Court Street was also granted a sex establishment licence earlier this year causing residents to raise concerns that old town would become like a ‘red light district’ if Shades’ application was successful.

Greggs opens second Moments coffee shop in Tyneside: Baker Greggs has opened its second coffee shop in Tyneside. The new Greggs Moment is at the Gateshead Metrocentre and follows a branch opening in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street in October. Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan said: “The Metrocentre in Gateshead is an excellent location where we already have three ‘food on the go’ shops. We look forward to welcoming customers who’d like to sit down and relax, and enjoy a coffee shop experience with great value prices they expect from Greggs.”

Greene King plans Leamington Spa Hungry Horse: Greene King has submitted a planning application to open a Hungry Horse with an outdoor play area and 76 parking spaces in Heathcote, Leamington Spa. The venue would be on the corner of Heathcote Lane and Poseidon Way. Residents are being invited to send suggested names to superhorse@greeneking.co.uk.

Leeds oldest pub changes hands: The oldest pub in Leeds has been bought by a new company headed by Ed Mason, who has owned and runs a series of venues in the city. He said: “I'm really excited to be the new owner of Whitelock's. I first started drinking here when I moved to Leeds as a student in 1989 and it has always had a special place in my heart. It seemed like the pub had fallen off people’s radar a bit in the last few years, and we're committed to investing in the pub and turning things around.”

Denby Pottery wins consent for new hotel, pub and retail complex: Denby Pottery has won planning consent for a new hotel, pub and retail complex. The pottery firm claims the development - including a garden centre and woodland - will bring about 600 new jobs to Denby. The plans must now be submitted to the secretary of state for final sign off. Denby Pottery wants to build the 80-bedroom hotel along with a restaurant, garden centre and a new warehouse on its Derby Road site.

Pret A Manger plans opening in fourth US city: Sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger is planning an opening in its fourth US city – Boston, Massachusetts. The opening is planned for mid-November in a shop vacated by Borders last year. Pret A Manger currently has stores in New York, Chicago and Washington DC – it opened originally in New York in 2000. At the end of last month, Pret A Manger unveiled a major partnership with US retailer Target, which has 1,763 stores, in Chicago to open its first in-store location for shoppers.

Hydes pays £645,000 for new brewery site in Salford: North-west brewer Hydes has paid £645,000 to acquire a 20,000 square foot warehouse at Kansas Avenue, Salford, for a new brewery, it has been revealed. Jones Lang La Salle and WHR were joint agents in the sale on behalf of former owners Selbourne Group.

Domino’s launches pizza delivery experience campaign: Domino’s Pizza in the US has launched a national television campaign in which consumers are asked to contribute to a whole new pizza delivery experience by helping design the Ultimate Delivery Vehicle. Chief marketing officer Russell Weiner said: “This may just be our ultimate ‘Oh Yes We Did’ moment and our national television campaign shows that this is not just a stunt. With the help of car enthusiasts, Domino's fans and pizza lovers everywhere, we hope that our eventual prototype design is something that truly revolutionises the Domino's experience for everyone.”

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