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Wed 16th Jan 2013 - Brasserie Blanc, JD Wetherspoon and Mitch Tonks

Story of the day:

Pub and restaurant like-for-likes up 2.1% in December: Britain’s pub and restaurant groups have reported better Christmas and New Year trading than a year ago – though not by much. Collective like-for-like sales for the six weeks up to January 6 were up 2.1% on the same period 12 months ago, according to latest data from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, the industry’s sales barometer. Total sales for the festive period, which include the effect of new openings, were ahead 4.7% among the 24 companies in the Tracker sample. “Operators will be pleased to be up on last year, but with both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve falling mid-week, and so not affecting normal weekend trading, they would have been expecting a slightly better sales performance than last year,” 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, Baker Tilly and UBS. “The figures reflect the essentially flat marketplace we have experienced for the past year or so, where any sales growth for the leading groups has come from new openings, which in turn has helped them increase market-share at the expense of independents,” said Martin. “While there has been no big festive boost for eating and drinking out overall, neither has there been the decline some sections of the retail market have seen. However, behind these headlines numbers, individual companies and brands have often performed quite differently as inter-brand competition also heats up.” Overall, Christmas period trading was stronger in London than outside the M25, and, over the period as a whole, pubs performed better than restaurants, although both saw a like-for-like increase on last year. “Although drink-led pubs generally edged pub restaurants in terms of Christmas sales performance, it was still the food element of their businesses that drove the uplift,” added Peter Martin. Looking at week-by-week trading, the Tracker data collected from operating groups shows a slow start to the festive celebrations with the last week of November and the first two weeks of December all down on 2011 in terms of like-for-like sales. Sales then picked up strongly in the week that ended on the weekend before Christmas, with restaurants in particular doing well. The week containing the New Year holiday also performed well, especially for pubs.

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Industry news:

Christie + Co – freehouse market grown to around 20,000 pubs: Agent Christie + Co has reported that 75% of the pubs acquired for continued use last year were bought by experienced operators. Head of pubs and restaurants Neil Morgan said: “The consequence is the continued growth in the traditional freehold free house market, which is an encouraging sign for the sector, especially for the free trade suppliers and independent brewers.” Morgan said that he believes that the freehouse pub market has grown from 17,700 back in 2008 to in excess of 20,000 now. The average freehold price of pubs sold by Christie + Co in 2012 was just under £240,000.

Family brewers are exporting to 65 countries: The 29 members of the Independent Family Brewers of Britain are exporting to over 65 countries worldwide, an annual survey of members has shown. Overall, 104,224 barrels of beer were exported by Family Brewers members, with countries in all six of the world’s continents (Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and both Americas) on the receiving end of a shipment. “We’re incredibly pleased that, despite the country’s economy going through a difficult period, we export to so many countries,” said Family Brewers chairman James Staughton. “Such global appeal is testament to the excellent quality of our beer.”

Domino’s Pizza in the US extends value offer: Domino’s Pizza has expanded a $5.99 value deal to non-pizza items. Its current offer of two medium two-topping pizzas for $5.99 each now allows customers to substitute many of the chain’s other items into an order for $5.99, including Oven Baked Sandwiches, Penne Pastas, Stuffed Cheesy Bread or an eight-piece order of chicken. A new TV campaign is framed as a light-hearted appeal to customers to try something new in 2013, referring to one of the discounted non-pizza items on the brand’s menu.

Company news:

JD Wetherspoon reports 8% like-for-like sales increase but margin down by 1.1%: JD Wetherspoon has reported like-for-like sales rose 8% in the first eleven weeks of its second quarter to 13 January 2013. Total sales increased by 11.3%. In the year to date - 24 weeks to 13 January 2013 - like-for-like sales increased by 7.6% and total sales increased by 11.2%.The company stated this morning: “We currently expect the operating margin for the half year ending 27 January 2013 to be around 8.2%, approximately 1.1% lower than the last financial year, due to slightly higher than expected increases in costs in areas such as tax, utilities, labour and bar and food supplies, combined with increased marketing costs. We anticipate the company’s corporation tax rate for this financial year to be around 27.5%. The company has opened five new pubs so far this financial year and currently have 12 sites under development. In line with previous estimates we intend to open approximately 25 pubs in the current financial year. Our sales, profit and cash flow continue to be resilient, in spite of the continuing taxation and regulation burden on the pub industry and the on-going pressure on consumer’s disposable incomes. The board expects a reasonable outcome for the current financial year.”

Ooberstock raises £600,000 second round funding; introduces free delivery: Ooberstock, the ‘intelligent wholesale’ business launched last year, is raising a glass after securing more than half a million pounds in a second-round of fundraising to take the business to the next level of growth. In celebration of this latest success, the company will now offer its customers free delivery on all orders. Despite a challenging year for the drinks sector, Ooberstock, which has been dubbed “the for the hospitality industry”, has won the confidence of major investors, securing a further £600,000 in expansionary funding. Ooberstock is revolutionising the traditional wholesale model to provide a modern 21st century alternative that allows customers to place orders online as well as by phone. The additional finance, raised mainly through existing shareholders, follows a successful first full six months for the company – capped by a strong Christmas trading period. Managing director at Ooberstock Arran Heal said: “2012 was certainly a challenging year to launch a new business but we had absolute confidence that Ooberstock would be effective in the marketplace. Securing this additional funding demonstrates the level of confidence in the business and will enable us to continue to grow, offering the most efficient ordering system, reliable and flexible delivery, extensive choice and competitive pricing for our customers. As a thank you to our 800 existing customers and newcomers to the service, we are pleased to introduce free delivery on all orders. At a time of unavoidable industry price rises and inflationary pressures we are determined to continue to offer our customers great service and great value.”

Brazilian restaurant chain to open eighth site in Carlisle: Brazilian restaurant chain Tropeiro is to open its seventh site in a former Botchergate bar in Carlisle. The lease for the building that was formerly home to Cassa has now been taken over by Brazilian chef and businessman Nei Borgert, who operates seven restaurants in Chester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Glasgow and Aberdeen. It will be based on the Brazilian concept of Rodizio, with 20 different cuts of meat cooked barbecue style and carved at the table. “It’s a very popular style of eating, with lots of different cuts of meat such as beef, chicken, pork, lamb, cut at the table-side – and they only stop when you say stop,” said Nathan Fisk, of Tropeiro.

Fuller’s appoints media planner: London brewer and retailer Fuller’s has announced the appointment of UM London to handle its media planning and buying business. The main focus for UM London will be the London Pride brand, but it will also be asked to work on other brands for the brewery. Russell Place, of UM London, said: “We are delighted to be working with Fuller’s and to have the opportunity to collaborate with them on fresh campaigns for iconic brands like London Pride, as well working across their wider portfolio.”

JW Lees steps into the breach after multi-site operator disappears: North west brewer and retailer JW Lees has stepped into the breach after an award-winning multi-site operator Graham Horrocks went missing. Horrocks left two Lees’ pubs, The Morning Star in Shaw, The Halfway House in Royton and a third site Chester restaurant The Gallery last week, leaving a trail of debts and workers without wages. William Lees-Jones, managing director of JW Lees, told the local newspaper: “We are keeping the doors open and doing everything we can to take on Graham Horrocks’s former staff. Our sympathies go out to those who have suffered financially owing to his departure. We would urge anyone who knows of his whereabouts to contact JW Lees so he can be found.” He told Morning Briefing: “He had a good business and displayed tremendous energy but may have grown too quickly. I feel disappointed – we wanted to help Graham trade through his problems but he failed to turn up to a meeting last week.”

Wahaca secures ninth site: Wahaca has secured its ninth site in London – it’s taken a 20-year lease on the Pitcher & Piano site in Islington with freehold owner Marston’s as its landlord. Wahaca Islington is expected to be open after April this year. Wahaca currently operates from eight locations across London, including Canary Wharf, Soho and Covent Garden. Nick Weir, director at Shelley Sandzer said: “Wahaca’s growth has been a real success story. They’ve got a great brand and popular concept of delicious, fresh food served in an informal and buzzy environment. This latest location in Islington fits well with the brand and I am sure will soon become very popular with the locals in north London.”

North east operator Head of Steam reports success with imported beers: North east multiple Head of Steam ha reported success stocking a wide range of imported beers. Among the rare beers stocks at Tilley’s Bar is Alaskan Smoked Porter from the Alaskan Brewing Co. of Juneau, Alaska. “We were a bit concerned about whether we were stocking beers that our customers simply would not want to buy because of the price,” said Graham Frost, manager of Tilleys Bar. “The Alaskan Smoked Porter – admittedly very strong and in a very big bottle - was put on sale at £17.50 and we held our breath. But the bottles flew off the shelf and now we are trying to get some more.” The basement bar of The Head Of Steam in Neville Street, Newcastle, has started stocking cans. “We have live bands and DJs virtually every night in the basement bar,” said Chris O’Connor, assistant manager. “Selling drinks in cans there means less problems collecting dirty glasses and our customers think it’s cool, very retro, to drink out of cans – which you can do while you are dancing. So we now have a large range of canned beers from around the world and they are going like a bomb.”

Brasserie Blanc launches loyalty card: Brasserie Blanc has launched a “Frequent Diner” loyalty card. Points can be exchanged for a selection of prizes and experiences from dinner at our brasseries, to bottles of champagne, cases of wine, hampers and even a night at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir. Blanc tells customers on the website: “Pick up a card next time you visit one of our brasseries and start collecting points there and then. Remember to activate your card on-line when you get home. (Cards can also be requested online). It has been said that an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. Well, I believe our guests are blessed with both so no half measures here! I am very excited to bring you this new loyalty card and I hope you will enjoy using it and earning the rewards.”

Mitch Tonks plans third Rockfish site: Restaurateur Mitch Tonks will open the third site in his Rockfish brand at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. A planning application has been submitted for a 200-cover seafood restaurant in the building next to the aquarium in a £500,000 investment. Tonks already operates Rockfish sites in Bristol and Dartmouth, where he also runs a fish and chip shop and his flagship seafood restaurant The Seahorse.

Coca-Cola teams up with World Wildlife Fund to protect polar bears: Coca-Cola and conservation charity WWF are to launch a joint awareness campaign to raise funds to conserve the home of polar bears. Coca-Cola is also pledging €3m over the next three years towards helping preserve polar bears’ Arctic home, which will fund conservation planning for The Last Ice Area - an are of more than 1.4m square kilometres in northern Greenland and northern Canada. Coca-Cola will also promote the initiative with polar bear imagery on more than 300 million Coca-Cola cans across Europe.

Bryon and Browns sign for Liverpool One: Byron, the better burger brand created by Tom Byng, and Brown’s, Mitchells & Butlers all-day brasserie brand, are to open restaurants in Liverpool One. Byron has taken 3,894 square foot for its first restaurant in the north west and only its third outside London. Brown’s 6,444 square foot site will be its first in the city, and only its second in the north west. Both restaurants will be open this spring. Miles Dunnett, head of asset management at the Grosvenor Liverpool Fund, said: “Byron and Brown’s are fantastic additions to Liverpool One’s line-up of leading dining brands. They provide even more choice, enhance Liverpool One’s premium offer, and further increase its appeal for visitors living in the expanding outer catchment.”

Stonegate Pub Company to introduce Sky at refurbished Slug & Lettuce: Managed operator Stonegate is to introduce Sky Sports at its Epsom site in the wake of a £130,000 refurbishment. The venue will re-open on Thursday 17th January, with a new colour scheme of sea green, plum and silver, the creation of a new layout with the removal of a wall, a raised area and the inclusion of two circular booths. Sky Sports has also been installed along with a large projector and two plasma screens. Throughout January, Slug & Lettuce has extended its regular 50% off food, which is usually available only on Monday, to the rest of the week. Simply visit and register to download your voucher.

Marston’s plans 30 redundancies: Midlands-based Marston’s, which has its headquarters in Wolverhampton, is making 30 redundancies among its office staff. It is thought the 30 jobs are going through a mixture of voluntary redundancies, offers of enhanced severance pay and non-replacement of vacant posts. A Marston’s spokesman said: “I can confirm there are 30 redundancies among headquarters roles where we currently employ 1,200 people. They are not all in Wolverhampton – we have other offices around the country.”

Douglas Jack – good prospects ahead for Spirit: Numis Securities analyst Douglas Jack has issued a Buy recommendation on Spirit Pub Company with a Target Price of 85p citing Good prospects ahead”. He said: “Year-to-date trading is in line, but with easier weather-related comparatives ahead, at 4.0% in H2, versus H1’s 5.6%. Sales should also benefit from initiatives, including: introducing new ranges of drinks. For example, there is now a wide cask ale range across the estate rather than just in the Taylor Walker pubs, as it was a year ago; re-brandings: we believe the remaining investment programme will be focused on January and February to minimise disruption to the business. Better management information is being gained following the now-completed roll out of new EPOS and back office systems.”

Cornwall Michelin-starred chef launches new restaurant: The first Michelin starred chef in Cornwall, Kevin Viner, who left his restaurant near Truro after a long-running feud with his landlord, has launched a new venture at a country house hotel in Mithian. He has joined the Rose in Vale Hotel as its master chef launching Viner at the Rose. On February 1 the chef is hosting a launch dinner with guests including Devon-born chef Michael Caines.

San Marco opens fifth site: Lancashire Italian restaurant group San Marco has opened a fifth venue with the launch of Stratos, a tapas bar in Preston - on the site of the former French Bistro in Avenham Road in the city. San Marco’s other venues are The Italian Orchard, Trattorria San Marco, Angelo’s and Pinocchio’s. The company received funding for its latest venture from Barclays Corporate. Carlo Bragagnini, of San Marco, said: “We have identified this period as a perfect opportunity to prepare the San Marco group for better times ahead. “We certainly look forward to the challenges ahead which are made all the more approachable when you have the full backing and support of your bank.”

New concept Ribs ‘n’ Bibs to launch in Lincoln: A new restaurant concept, Ribs ‘n” Bibs, will launch in Lincoln on 14 February. Ribs ‘n’ Bibs is to be launched by Adam Morgan and will sell a full menu of American smokehouse-style food. Morgan said: “The idea for Ribs’n’Bibs was born out of mine and my business partner’s passion for real American food. We are both Lincoln born and bred, though I have travelled extensively and my business partner grew up in the States. I have over 20 years experience in the catering industry, working and managing at arguably Lincoln’s most popular and stylish eating and drinking locations over the years, from The Wig & Mitre to The Tower Hotel. Good barbecue can be epitomised in three words: slow and low. Meat cooked for a longer period of time over a relatively lower temperature heat source.”

Costa Coffee partners with Pininfarina to create new generation self-service coffee machine: Costa Coffee has partnered with Italian design firm Pininfarina to create a new generation of self-serve Costa Express coffee machine, the CEM-200, which offers 250 drink choices. The new machine has been developed for use in evolving consumer segments – corporations, lounges, airports and railway stations. Whitbread plans to expand Costa Coffee vending machines into new market segments after creating a network of 1,986 machines in motorway service stations and garages since acquiring the Coffee Nation business. The new machine offers cashless payment and will provide the ability for Costa to give out coupons that customers can redeem on a subsequent visit, encouraging repeat business. “Advanced technology, iconic design and ease of use are elements marking the project. The result is a product expressing the true spirit of Pininfarina’s style,” said Paolo Pininfarina, chairman of the Pininfarina Group. Pininfarina did the design work on Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine, which is being trialed at Burger King sites in Greater London after success in the US. It is claimed that the CEM-200 leapfrogs existing coffee vending technologies by producing better coffee and giving customers an engaging, immersive experience. The new machine incorporates Intel Anonymous Viewer Analytics to allow Costa to understand more about who’s using machines and what they’re buying to enable it to provide the right selection of coffee at each location. A spokesman for Intel said: “This solution helps Costa strengthen pricing power, offer customers the right product mix, increase sales per transaction and improve operating margins. It’s a full experience self-serve café, which also adds an incredible blend of new technologies to help the vendor promote brands in ways that have never been available before.”

Propel Opinion by Paul Charity: The acquisition of the Coffee Nation business in May 2011 by Whitbread chief executive Andy Harrison for £59.5m was his first major strategic deal after taking the helm in September 2010. It’s already proven to be a runaway success – Coffee Nation operated 900 machines on acquisition. Coffee Nation machines saw a 20% increase in volume when converted to Costa Express. The creation of a new generation machine paves the way for the rapid expansion of Costa’s network of vending machines after Harrison told City analysts at the end of last year that the Costa Express business plan was ahead of schedule.

Hop Back Brewery reports pub market reached tipping point: Hop Back Brewery, which has an estate of ten pubs, has reported lower profit and turnover as customers are put off visiting traditional pubs because of price. The company reported pre-tax profit of £119,731 (2011: £132,173) on turnover of £3,941,869 (2011: £4,095,496) in the year to 30 September 2012. The company said: “Although (the profit) is less than we anticipated, we were badly affected by the poor trading in August suffered across our sector, possibly because of bad weather and the Olympics. August has in the past been our best trading month by far. However, cash flow continued to be positive and we carry very little debt. We remain cautious about the current year given that the economic situation continues to be poor and the compound effect of duty rises which makes beer ever more expensive. We seemed to have reached a tipping point on price, which is putting off customers going to the traditional pub. We are also operating in what is becoming an increasingly crowded market, with a considerable increase in microbreweries, many of which benefit from a lower rate of duty than us, all fighting for the business of a small number of pubs.” The company added: “We would also like to thank all our staff for their continued flexibility during uncertain times.”

Redcomb Pubs in talks on funding; plans up to five new openings in 2013: Redcomb Pubs, the operator of six pubs led by former Mitchells & Butlers marketing executive Dan Shotton is exploring funding options as it plans the next stage of its development. The company is currently debt-free and cash positive having opened its sixth site, The Crown and Horns in East Ilsley, near Newbury, Berkshire, at the start of December. Shotton told Morning Briefing: “Ideally, we’d like to open at least three pubs in 2013 and up to as many as five. We’re exploring a number of financing options.” Options are thought to include a Enterprise Investment Scheme and a business angel investment. Meanwhile, the company saw 4.5% like-for-like sales growth in December. Shotton said: “Christmas Day and Boxing Day were great – and New Year’s Eve was the best we’ve ever had. Generally, we were very happy and January has been strong so far.”
Kornicis opens latest Jamies: London-based Kornicis Group has opened the latest of its Jamies wine bars on Tudor Street just off Fleet Street - it was called The Witness Box. The 150-capacity venue is split over two floors and features a formal restaurant and a number of bar areas.

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