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Wed 7th Jan 2015 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Jamie Rollo – Whitbread could make a surprise acquisition of an embryonic brand as it demerges Costa: Morgan Stanley's leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has predicted that Whitbread could acquire an embryonic grab-and-go brand in 2015 as it demerges Costa. Rollo said: "Costa provides a great template. Whitbread acquired Costa in 1995 for £20m when it had 41 stores. It has since grown to over 3,000 stores with £130m ebit forecast for this year, and we value it at circa £3bn. Costa has benefited from Whitbread’s systems and processes, the pool of management that a FTSE 100 company attracts, and purchasing economies. Its capital investment has not been constrained, and its continuity of ownership has allowed it to take steady market share in the UK and make investments in some potentially risky new markets. Whitbread has already made two acquisitions within Costa, expanding into Poland through the £34m Coffeeheaven acquisition in 2009 and into UK self-service machines with the £60m Coffee Nation acquisition in 2011. The latter deal was particularly successful, with the number of machines growing from 900 to over 4,000 currently, and generating an estimated ebit of £18m, so a multiple of just 4x. Slowing UK expansion and/or a Costa demerger suggest another leg of growth could be needed. Whitbread has plenty of growth potential left in the UK, but its growth rates will naturally slow as its scale grows, and penetration levels in both its core segments are high. For example, penetration of branded budget hotels will be circa 26% by 2018 when its growth milestones have been reached, above the US and France, both markets with more domestic travel. Costa also appears ubiquitous in the UK, with over 9,000 points of consumption, meaning there are three times more Costas per person in the UK than Starbucks in the US. At some point a demerger of Costa seems plausible to us, even though Whitbread sees it as a core business. It is self-funding, well understood by investors, and able to stand on its own two feet. Replacing it with an embryonic growth brand could be an exciting development in Whitbread’s strategy. What areas might Whitbread be interested in? Whitbread says it is 100% focused on its core businesses, where it sees a fantastic opportunity. As an example, it has increased its capex guidance this year from £360m to £575m as it has found various London freehold buildings to open as Premier Inns, with a mid-teens ROI target. This sort of spend means it has the highest capex/ebitda ratio in our universe, and equivalent to a pretty sizeable acquisition each year. However, the company recognises it has strong skills in leisure, that it needs to keep innovating and looking at least five years ahead, and it occasionally looks over the garden fence. Some obvious areas that would play on its strengths include UK high street food and drink outlets (eg grab and go, other hot beverages, freshly made/baked food, with the high street morphing from a retail to leisure destination), and alternative accommodation formats both for the UK and overseas (eg boutique budget, hostels, student, themed, pods). It could also make sense to acquire an existing hotel or coffee chain in its international markets (particularly Germany, where it is trialling Premier Inn, and France where it is trialling Costa) in order to get critical mass, and convert the new brand to its own. The company certainly has a strong enough balance sheet for a good-sized acquisition, and though it is fairly close to its 3.5x adjusted leverage target, this is a conservative ratio. What might investors think? We think that, given Whitbread’s strong track record, investors would immediately value any acquisition above the price Whitbread paid for it. We would also expect any acquisitions to be (at least partially) funded by debt. Accor has been raising long-term fixed bonds at circa 2%, and assuming a similar interest rate for Whitbread, a £1bn deal funded by 3% debt at 10x ebit would add 17% to EPS.”

Industry News:

Activist fund raises stake in Prezzo to 14.4% ahead of Friday vote: Activist fund Elliott International has taken an increased stake in Prezzo, holding 14.4% of the company’s shares. Elliott International informed Prezzo in the week before Christmas that it held 12.14% of its voting rights via contracts for difference. On Monday, the US activist hedge fund increased its stake in the Italian restaurant chain to 13.4% and converted its holding from a contract for difference to straight shares. The Prezzo board recommended an offer from US buyout specialist TPG in November, valuing the business at £304m, a price analysts criticised as too low. Elliott first took a 3.1% stake the day Prezzo agreed to the deal. TPG’s bid has the support of 62% of Prezzo shareholders but needs a further 13% to get the deal through, which puts Elliott in a strong position to push for a higher offer. Elliott is known for its aggressive approach to investing, in particular its legal battle with Argentina over the country’s 2001 default. Shareholders vote on the deal this Friday. Under the terms of the acquisition, Prezzo shareholders will be entitled to receive 126.5p in cash for each share held.

Anthony Pender – government must be more supportive of sector’s job creation efforts: Anthony Pender, vice-chairman of the Perceptions Group, and co-founder of Yummy Pub Company, is pushing for the government to be more supportive of the hospitality industry after Labour’s claim that long-term youth unemployment is costing taxpayers more than £180m a year. “With 2015 being an election year, it is vital that we make sure that the political parties are aware of the economic importance of the hospitality industry,” said Pender in response to the comments by the shadow work and pensions secretary, Rachel Reeves. “Youth unemployment has always been a challenge for the government. However, there are thousands of jobs out there, but more support is to help educate and inform students, teachers and careers advisers about the vast range of opportunities that exist within this vibrant sector.” People 1st, the sector skills organisation for the hospitality industry, predicts that it will need an additional 848,000 workers by 2020, with one in four of these jobs being in the pub and bar sector. “The misconception arises when people think about pubs and bars – they cannot see further than the part-time, pocket money options. The truth is a young person can progress quickly, learning all the skills required to run a business and take responsibility for a premises that would typically turn over in excess of £1m. That’s big business,” Pender said.
Sales data shows UK’s changing Christmas food habits: Sales data from the major supermarkets released by analysts at IRI reveals sales of the Brussels sprout fell by 19.1% in value this Christmas as shoppers shunned some of the less popular elements of traditional festive fare. Sales of whole turkeys were down 7.2% in the period, while champagne sales dipped by 8% and gammon, beef and bacon dropped by 4.1%. Wine, liqueur and spirit sales rose as did speciality cheese, seasonal cakes, puddings and pies. Management Today said: “It’s worth bearing in mind that the data does now include discounters or smaller retailers, suggesting some people were nabbing bargain champagne from the likes of Aldi or buying a hand-reared, organic, quinoa-fed bird from a speciality butchers rather than forgoing turkey altogether.”

Lynx Purchasing app passes 10,000 downloads: The Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator app has now been downloaded by more than 10,000 chefs and hospitality professionals. The free app, offered by the buying specialist Lynx Purchasing for Apple and Android devices, passed the 10,000 download milestone at the start of 2015. With industry analysts forecasting strong competition for consumer spend in the year ahead, the app helps operators manage margins and calculate menu prices simply and efficiently. Giles Fry, managing director of a Lynx customer, Snug Bars, said: “The market is at its most competitive at the start of the year, with customers eating out less often and looking for good value when they do. Fixed price meals and set menus can be a useful way to bring in extra customers, especially at quieter times of the day or week, and quite often need to be implemented quickly in response to other operators’ offers. You may not always be achieving your ideal GP when you offer a set price deal, but you can balance that against the additional revenue generated. It’s still essential to know what GP you’re achieving, and using the Lynx GP app means we can keep tab on margins when we flex our food offer.”

Company News:

Jamie Rollo – Mitchells & Butlers is our top pub and restaurant share tip: Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has named Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) as his top pub and restaurant share tip as 2015 gets underway. He said: “We are upgrading our M&B rating to ‘Overweight’, as we think the shares are cheap and the company is reaching an inflection point on like-for-like sales growth and dividend resumption at a time when the industry is consolidating. We forecast a 2014-17 EPS CAGR of 15%, assuming only 1-2% like-for-like sales growth, leaving a 2017e P/E of 7.9x and EV/Ebitda of 6.3x, very good value for a high quality mainly freehold pub operator. After many years of like-for-like sales outperformance, M&B’s organic sales have underperformed for several years due to it being overambitious on price (which has lost it volume), a high degree of senior management turnover, and more intense competition. Prices and margins have been rebased, and volumes are now starting to improve, with like-for-like sales in the last eight weeks +2.4%, against under 1% in the last two financial years. Meanwhile the Orchid acquisition should deliver a 10% Ebit boost once the sites are converted, which combined drives a 15% EPS CAGR 2014-17e. We also think a dividend can be resumed in FY16, when the company is generating cash post bond amortisation. So with improving like-for-likes, a strategy that seems to be working, a strong consumer, and a dividend resumption, we think the shares deserve a more normal valuation than the somewhat distressed levels they currently trade on.”

Wetherspoon stocks Irish pub with stout brewed by Marston’s: JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has reported that Irish drinkers are being served with a stout produced by Marston’s, its Revisionist Craft Stout. For his first two pubs in the Irish Republic, Martin was left with no choice but to offer a British alternative. He told The Independent: “We have found a new mega-product which the Irish are consuming in vast quantities at a €2.50 a pint: Marston’s stout.” The move comes after Diageo refused to supply Wetherspoon pubs in the Republic with Guinness and Heineken withheld its Murphy’s stout. “It’s not worth trying to force a supplier to sell you something he doesn’t want to,” Martin said. “We have to take a philosophical approach: there is no law requiring Diageo to sell us Guinness in Ireland at the same price as in England. If the [US] president pays a visit to one of our pubs in Ireland, we’ll be delighted to serve him – or her – a delicious pint of Marston’s stout.”

Chameleon Bar and Dining reports 7.3% LfL growth in December: Chameleon Bar and Dining, which operates five pub restaurants in West Yorkshire and Lancashire, has reported strong sales growth leading to record sales over the festive period. In the five weeks to 4 January, like-for-like sales were up 7.3%, with total sales up 11.1%. Sales were particularly strong in the weeks of Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Sales growth on food and drink were roughly similar. However, food sales represent 56.4% of total sales. Phil Strong, Chameleon's managing director, said: “We have had a very good festive period, particularly on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, where all sites were sold out well in advance. Three sites broke their weekly sales records and our freehouses did particularly well. It was interesting to note the stronger weekend sales away from the party bookings suggesting, from feedback, that with more consumers internet shopping they had more time to spend on casual dining. Whilst the weather helped us again this year – no snow – our success can certainly be attributed to good forward planning and marketing through our websites, database and social media, good in house activity from the summer and the hard work and professionalism of our excellent staff.”
Kornicis reports 7% festive like-for-like sake growth: The City of London wine bar and restaurant operator, Kornicis Group achieved a 7% increase in like-for-like sales in its 18 London sites in the five-week period leading up to Christmas. The record Christmas sales marked the sixth consecutive year of strong growth in the festive period. Compound annual sales growth rate over Christmas is now 5.5% during the past six years. Group chief executive Nick Tamblyn said: “As Christmas Day fell later in the week, a much stronger performance was seen in Christmas week itself. This trend is expected to continue for the next couple of years. Sales for the December quarter showed strong like for like growth of 7.3%, matching the annual like for like performance of 7.4% for the 12 months to December 2014. Kornicis is well positioned to continue its expansion within London during 2015.”

Beach Blanket Babylon owner to open second Notting Hill restaurant:
Robert Newmark, owner of Beach Blanket Babylon, the bar and restaurant operator with venues in Notting Hill and Shoreditch, London, is to open a third London outlet, an all-day grill house and cocktail lounge at 36 Golborne Road, Notting Hill called West Thirty Six. The three-storey 100-cover "unconventional grill house" will serve contemporary British cuisine with "some American touches", including charcuterie and beef brisket sliders, and is due to open at the end of this month. It will have a bar and lounges, and the two outdoor spaces will be used for al fresco dining and barbecuing in the summer, John Pollard, previously of the Soho House Group, is executive chef, working alongside Piers Walker, who most recently headed the food and drink operation at The Mondrian London.

Iconic Dublin cafe Bewley's to shut until autumn for refurbishment aimed at reviving business: Dublin's iconic Bewley's Cafe in Grafton Street is to shut until the autumn, with 140 staff laid off, as more than €1m is spent refurbishing the building to focus the business on the ground floor. The restaurant is losing €1.2m (£940,000) a year and pays an annual rent of €1.5m despite numerous battles for a reduced rate. Bewley's described the rent being paid to its landlord as "a legacy of the unsustainable property bubble" in Ireland. The business has been embroiled in a series of high-profile battles to have its massive annual rent switched from upward-only reviews after Ireland's economic collapse. A third party arbitrator established a rate from January 1 2012 at €728,000 a year but the higher rent still prevails after the company lost a legal challenge in the Irish Supreme Court last July. John Cahill, chief executive of the business group, said the plan was to sustain the cafe's continuing presence in Grafton Street while protecting its physical fabric and enhancing the customer experience. "Ongoing and major losses are not a viable option for the cafe. We have a choice of either permanent closure or investing in a realignment and rejuvenation of the cafe," he said. "We have chosen to underpin its future sustainability through a restructuring plan involving further investment and improvement." The refurbishment works will be the first improvements to the building since 2005. Bewley's said the cafe will reopen with a simplified focus on the ground floor and basement to reduce costs. It said the cafe will be repositioned to enhance its appeal to consumer tastes with a focus on high-quality handcrafted coffees, speciality teas, baked goods and patisserie while plans also include expansion of the craft bakery. Bewley's is today mostly a supplier of coffee and tea to other operators, though it also runs Rebecca’s Cafes in Boston in the United States and Java City, a coffee roasting, wholesale and cafe operation based in Sacramento, California.
Hip burger operation Solita to open third Manchester outlet: The hip Manchester burgers-and-steaks restaurant Solita is planning to open a branch on the north side of the city by this April. Co-founder Franco Sotgiu refused to confirm an exact location for the new outlet, rumoured to be in Prestwich, but told the Manchester Evening News: “We’re hoping to open by April, and heading to North Manchester is a logical expansion for us. We have a lot of customers coming to us from Bolton, Worsley, Eccles and Whitefield, so we believe there is the demand for what we do in North Manchester.” The new venue will have room for 100 covers, as well as an al fresco dining area. The original Turner Street restaurant in the Northern Quarter opened in 2012, and Sotgiu and his business partner Simon Pogson launched a second site in Didsbury in September, with talk of another opening in Liverpool in 2015. The Solita menu includes the Big Manc burger, deep-fried cheeseburger spring rolls and deep-fried mac ’n’ cheese.
Italian wine cafe concept looks to open seven locations in next 18 months: Veeno, the "Italian wine cafe" chain founded in November 2013 by Nino Caruso and Andrea Zecchino and already up to three outlets, is speaking to investors with the aim of expanding to ten locations in the next 18 months. The company currently has outlets in Brazennose Street, Manchester; Duncan Street, Leeds; and Piccadilly, York, and Caruso said: "It's our ambition to become a national chain. There's a pool of cities we're currently looking at; depending on how things go with investors, our next launch is likely to be either Liverpool or Newcastle." Franchising will be considered as an option to grow even quicker, he said. The chain sells wines from the family vineyard in Sicily, Caruso & Minini, served with aperitivi, small plates designed to complement the drinks, such as traditional Italian meats and regional cheeses, as well as panini, piadine (flatbreads) and salads. Special products include the winetasting menu or the "Apericena", a weekly event every Wednesday where customers can enjoy an unlimited buffet.

Las Iguanas reports LfLs up 8.8% over Christmas fortnight: Las Iguanas has reported like-for-like sales grew 7.8% over the Christmas fortnight. New Year’s Eve saw a 12.8% increase on 2013 and over a quarter of the estate had record-breaking weeks. Overall sales for the four-week period to 3 January were 2.9% up year-on-year. Chief executive Mos Shamel said: “Year after year we’ve seen growth over the festive period and that trend has continued this year with a fantastic performance from our teams across the country. This year we also saw a particularly strong week between Christmas and the new year and a phenomenal New Year’s Eve. With some cracking new sites also opening in the next few months this is a great start to 2015.”
Inventors seek funding for Coffee Copter coffee delivery drone:
A team of Dutch inventors and software developers are looming for funding to turn their Coffee Copter coffee delivery drone into a commercial proposition. The Coffee Copter was developed at A Lab, a hub for new media and technology start-ups based in Amsterdam, and has already flown successful flights delivering coffee from the cafe at A Lab to offices within the building. The service works through a smartphone app which lets customers order a coffee without leaving their desk. The app sends a signal with the order to the coffee bar on the ground floor. The coffee bar employees prepare the coffee and set the cup in the Coffee Copter. The copter has a stabiliser to keep the coffee as straight as possible during the flight. It uses object recognition and movement detection to avoid people and objects and a 3D algorithm to fly routes through the building. The Coffee Copter will land at the delivery address on a specially designed landing pillar and signal to the customer that the coffee is ready to drink. Four different companies based at A Lab worked on the Coffee Copter, including Puurontwerp & Skeyework, which designed the Coffee Copter itself, and the digital agency Unc Inc, which designed the app. The project is now seeking investors to develop the Coffee Copter further.

Signature Brew launches crowd-funding push: Signature Brew, the "music-inspired" brewing operation, known for its collaboration beers with musicians, has launched a fund-raising push on Crowdcube, looking to raise £125,000 in return for 13% of its equity in order to open its own brewery. Sam McGregor and Tom Bott founded Signature Brew in 2011, coming together from music and drinks industry backgrounds to brew music-inspired craft beers. It currently raises 50 invoices a month at a value of £200 per invoice. The pitch states: “It's our belief that Signature Brew puts more focus on music than any other brewery, and no one has released more music collaborations than us. Set up in 2011 as a three-man crusade against the monotonous nature of the beer at all the gigs we'd attended. When the music on stage was a labour of love and art, we didn’t want to enjoy it with passionless, uninspiring and insipid lagers. We now want investors to help us grow our business, and establish our own production facility in East London. Our mission is to bring great music and amazing craft beer closer together under one brand by brewing the best beers possible, and making people as excited about them as we are. We will strive to build the Signature Brew brand regionally, nationally and internationally in to 2017 when we conservatively estimate that the valuation would be a minimum of £5m, this is based on strong projected earnings of £1.25m in 2017 with ebitda of 22%. Tom Bott is a member of the Bott family that run successful regional brewer Titanic in Stoke on Trent, where he received his formal training. At the same time as working in several breweries across the UK, he studied business in Manchester. He also has experience in the on-trade world having ran various beer-focused outlets in Staffordshire."

Hakkasan targets $1bn of revenues within two years with 15 new openings: Hakkasan, the UK-founded restaurant and nightclub business is targeting turnover of $1bn within two years, its chief executive, Neil Moffatt, has reported. It launched a Hakkasan nightclub at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the company is now building a hotel on the Palm in Dubai, with plans for luxury properties in Beverley Hills, New York and London. “We’ve got 15 new openings scheduled for the Hakkasan group,” Moffitt told the Daily Telegraph. “We have a new strategic partnership with MGM Resorts International [the Nevada-based gaming, hospitality and entertainment company] to open hotels together. The Palm could be the first of many.” The Palm hotel will open in 2017. It will be a boutique outfit with around 200 rooms. “Once you have more than 200, service starts to suffer,” Moffitt said. “It’s the perfect time to open a hotel with the Dubai expo coming up in 2020.” After the Palm, Hakkasan is looking at New York or London, which would be preferable for Moffitt, who has a home in the Cotswolds. “My daughter loves show jumping,” he said. “I love being back in London, and the brand is very popular there.” The hotel and restaurant openings will take Hakkasan to $1bn in revenues within two years, he predicted. “When I think about UK cities where Hakkasan could be successful, there’s London, Manchester, Birmingham, maybe a couple more but then you run out,” he said. “In the US, you have real scale. There are 30 or more cities here where a product like Hakkasan could be successful.”
Franchisee closes second McDonald's in three months: One of McDonald's biggest franchisees, Grant Copper, has closed his second outlet in less than three months. Copper, who now runs 15 McDonald's outlets across the South of England, shut the restaurant in North End, Portsmouth on Saturday after 25 years of trading. The closure came after Copper closed the McDonald's he ran in Bognor Regis, Sussex on 1 November last year after almost 30 years. He told the Portsmouth News: "I can confirm that in conjunction with McDonald’s, I have taken the difficult decision to close my restaurant on London Road in Portsmouth, on January 3. We continually review the position of our restaurants and unfortunately London Road is no longer a viable location for us. All of the 37 staff have been offered transfers to neighbouring restaurants in the area." Copper first became a franchise holder in 2001, and still runs McDonald's outlets in Fareham, Gosport, Worthing, Shoreham, and Chichester, among other places.
Consultant – consolidation set to be a theme in hotel sector: Consolidation amongst major hotel companies will be one of the key themes of 2015 as large groups seek to grow their business or risk being taken over themselves, said Russell Kett, chairman of the global consultancy HVS London. Looking to the year ahead, Kett said that now was a good time to develop, acquire or invest in hotels as economic prospects are encouraging with demand for hotel rooms increasing and many parts of Europe having capacity for further rooms. As conditions in Europe’s hotel markets continue to improve, values were mostly on the rise and were expected to continue to do so for the next few years. “Organic growth is a relatively slow way to expand, so hotel companies will be looking for opportunities to make quantum leaps, typically by buying other hotel companies and driving more value through economies of scale,” he said. “Global hotel companies either have to acquire to maintain their growth strategy, or be prepared to be someone else’s target for acquisition. If you’re not dining, you're dinner.”

Kelly Holmes opens long-awaited coffee shop: The athlete Dame Kelly Holmes opened her long-awaited coffee shop, Cafe 1809, last month in Hildenborough, Kent. Holmes, 44, has been at the centre of development and involved in every stage of getting the project up and running. There are counters selling a wide variety of Kent produce including honey and salad dressings. The back of the shop has a brightly lit seating area and the rear garden accommodates racks for more than 30 bikes. The former Olympian runner said: "It’s been really manic since we’ve opened, people seem to have heard about it through word of mouth which is exactly what we want. We’re now open permanently so people of all ages can come and enjoy our lovely atmosphere whenever they want.” The restaurant is named for the number she wore when she won her two gold medals at the Athens Olympics.
Plan drawn up to create four new restaurants at new Doncaster cinema: A multimillion-pound  scheme has been drawn up to develop a cinema, hotel, four new restaurants and a gym at a high-profile spot in Doncaster town centre. The £10m plans would see an eight-screen multiplex developed at the Frenchgate Centre, a 56-room hotel and a 20,000 square foot gym. As part of the cinema application four new restaurant units are also being proposed, providing units between 3,500 square feet (to 4,300 square feet in addition to the centre’s existing food court area. Bosses at the site say the new cinema’s location would have access directly from both the shops in the shopping centre as well as from the multi-storey car park above.

Wetherspoon to recruit 99% of 15,000 new hires through its own website: JD Wetherspoon will turn to its own careers website,, to hire 99% of the 15,000 new employees it plans to take on over the next five years, according to a spokesperson for the pub chain. At the end of 2014, Wetherspoon announced plans to invest £400m in developing 200 new pubs across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, creating jobs at both the new pubs and at the firm’s existing locations and head office. A Wetherspoon spokesperson told Recruiter magazine that the firm’s careers website will handle recruitment for the bulk of the new roles. He said: “99% of it will be done through the website. Occasionally they deal with job agencies, but primarily it’s done through the website. All roles will be advertised apart from management. The management jobs aren’t really advertised externally because they tend to be filled internally.” Successful applicants tend to be managers at other pubs: “If X moves to another pub, there might be someone who is deputy manager at another pub. The majority of the jobs are not for managers so will be on the website.”

Beer that helped power 1970s cask beer revival is axed by Carlsberg UK: Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale, the beer whose introduction in 1976 by a leading member of the then Big Six UK brewers marked a massive step forward for the Campaign for Real Ale in its attempt to revive cask-conditioned beer, has been axed by Carlsberg UK because “demand has fallen to an unsustainable level”. The beer was originally brewed by Allied Breweries in Burton upon Trent, and was quickly on sale in a large number of Allied's 6,000 tied houses, encouraging the other big brewers in the UK to pay attention to the cask ale market again. In 1990 it won the Champion Beer of Britain award at the Great British Beer Festival. The following year Allied put its breweries into a joint venture with Carlsberg called Carlsberg-Tetley. Eventually production of Draught Burton Ale was switched to the Tetley brewery in Leeds and then to JW Lees in Manchester, where it was brewed under licence.
Hospital bans staff and patients from ordering food from new on-site Pizza Hut: Staff and patients at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth have been banned from ordering deliveries from a new Pizza Hut outlet in the hospital's car park. The hospital's weekly staff newsletter said Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust "has agreed with Pizza Hut and Wharfside [the developer that built the car park] that deliveries by Pizza Hut into the hospital will not be allowed. Please ensure this message is passed on to both staff and patients." However, Pizza Hut franchisee Simon Wright said the claim that a ban on deliveries had been agreed was "fabricated". He said: "A large part of our business comes from the hospital and I don't know where this has come from. There is definitely no agreement and I believe somebody at the hospital has been misled. In other parts of the UK it is no problem whatsoever and the business is essential." The new Pizza Hut take-away is the first food store to open in one of the new ground-floor retail units built by Wharfside Regeneration at the hospital's multi-storey car park, with a Subway set to follow. A spokesperson for Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust told the Plymouth Herald: "Wharfside Regeneration lease the car park space back to the hospital for use by staff, patients and visitors. The retail units are separately leased by Wharfside and the hospital has no say who leases these spaces. As part of our work around food hygiene and the control of visitors into clinical areas, delivery of 'takeaway' food is not encouraged. The trust maintains its commitment to improving healthy eating options for staff, patients and visitors. The hospital opened a juice bar in the main entrance of the hospital in March, which serves a range of smoothies and fresh juices alongside a healthier range of sandwiches, salads and pre-prepared fresh fruit pots. The proposed M&S Simply Food unit planned for outside the trust's main entrance will further expand the range of healthier choices available to staff, patients and visitors."

Dunkin' Donuts to move into Mexico: Dunkin' Donuts has signed a franchise agreement to develop more than 100 restaurants in Mexico, Latin America's second largest economy. The company will be teaming up with the Mexican subsidiary of Sizzling Platter, one of its franchisees in the US, on the roll-out. Paul Twohig, head of Dunkin' Donuts US and Canada, and Dunkin' Donuts & Baskin-Robbins Europe and Latin America, said: "There's a significant demand for what Dunkin' Donuts offers, high-quality food and beverages served fast and at a great value, in Mexico." Mexicans are well-known for their sweet tooth: the country consumes by a wide margin more Coca-Cola beverages than anywhere else in the world. Dunkin' Donuts currently has more than 11,000 restaurants in 33 countries around the world, including 11 in the UK.

Stonegate Pub Company closes iconic Middlesbrough rock venue: Stonegate Pub Company has closed its iconic Middlesbrough town centre rock venue, The Crown, located on the corner of Linthorpe Road. The venue has also played host to live music during the town’s annual music festivals and was home to Middlesbrough’s oldest running rock night every Saturday. The shock announcement was made public through the venue’s Facebook page which said: “It is with great regret that I have to inform you all that the Crown has closed its doors for the final time. Thank you for all the memories we have all shared over the past years. It’s an emotional day today for everyone involved with the Crown, whether that be employees or customers”

Arkell’s reports turnover and profit boost as it laments end of 'bread and butter': Swindon-based brewer and retailer Arkell’s has reported turnover grew by 6.4% to £19.861m in the year ended 31 March 2014. Profit before tax rose by 2.9% to £1.935m, including an exceptional item of £493,000 arising from the profit on the sale of a property. Pre-exceptional profit before tax of £1.441m is around £950,000 lower than was achieved in 2010 on turnover that was circa £670,000 lower in that year. The main reason for the turnover rise in 2014 was an increase in the number of managed pubs operated by the business. Accommodation revenue grew by 42% due largely to the acquisition of the Angel Hotel, Royal Wootton Bassett and building rooms at the Sun Inn, Swindon. Tenancy rents fell slightly due to transfers to managed houses, but on a like-for-like basis increased by 2.6%. The company sold one pub at a profit of £493,000 and closed a further two pubs during the year. Chairman James Arkell said in the annual report: “Change is all around our business as our bread and butter for much of our 171 years is over. Profitability of our tenants has come under immense strain. For all our help, visits, guidance, investment and enthusiasm, the viability of many pubs is just not sustainable because of overheads (lighting, heating, wages, 20% VAT – thank goodness the beer escalator has been removed) and the anti-alcohol lobby, which is still very vocal. Also our core customers have changed. Social and financial pressures have moved them on, not away but on, to different spend priorities with other aspirational choices. Our major investments in pub rooms continues and in this year we built ten bedrooms at the Sun Inn, Coate. This again reinforces our commitment to increase the pubs’ footprint for profit, rooms, caravans, outside eating areas. Nothing is off limits. We have invested in our unlicensed estate – pubs which have declined in volume and profit would not (otherwise) attain a reasonable price. It’s not easy for our staff – delivering to ever-changing customer demands, taking orders with charm in difficult financial times and reacting daily circumstances. Nothing is easy anymore and we take most days as they come – so my thanks to all of them. So though not easy to produce ever-rising profits, we have a clear direction and investment programme. We will continue to churn properties for the enhancement of our pubs and estate.” A dividend of £520,000 was paid.
Loungers reports record monthly sales of more than £5m: Loungers, the Piper Private Equity backed all-day cafe and bar group, has reported record sales in the month of December as net sales for the calendar month exceeded £5m. The group posted a 47.8% increase in year-on-year sales to £5.12m in a period that saw like-for-like sales increase by 3.5%. It is understood that the Cosy Club brand performed particularly strongly with the group's eight Cosy Club sites accounting for just over 30% of group sales in December. Loungers has also reported that like-for-like sales for last week (week ending 4 January) were up 11.8% with sales on New Year’s Day significantly up by 22.7% like-for-like. Loungers' newly appointed managing director, Nick Collins, said, "We once again enjoyed a really excellent festive period with good like-for-like growth and a tremendous increase in revenue. In addition to the Cosy Clubs having a stellar month, many sites set new individual sales records along the way and we saw a really strong performance across the board from the 15 sites we opened in 2014.”

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