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Fri 26th Feb 2016 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

CGA’s Peach Market Growth Monitor – pace of restaurant openings slows: Restaurant openings continue to make up for the fall in licensed premises caused by pub closures across Britain – but the pace of expansion is easing, according to the third edition of the Market Growth Monitor, the survey of Britain’s restaurant, pub and bar supply from AlixPartners and CGA Peach. The Monitor’s data from CGA’s Outlet Index shows Britain’s number of drink-led licensed premises fell by 1.2% in the year to December 2015 – equivalent to 808 sites. However, the number of food-led premises rose by 1.6% during the same period, thanks largely to the roll-out of casual dining operators around the country. The net result is Britain had more than 124,000 licensed premises in December, up by 0.1% on the same point a year earlier. After years of steady decline driven by the closure of drink-led pubs, the figures show restaurants have restored the licensed trade to expansion mode. But overall growth of 0.1% is significantly lower than the totals revealed in the previous two editions of the Market Growth Monitor. This indicates the pace of restaurant openings is slowing due, in part, to fragile consumer confidence and the availability and costs of property. The findings on supply echo similarly modest trends in sales during the past year. The Coffer Peach Business Tracker measured 1.5% growth for managed pub and restaurant businesses in 2015, well down on the 2014 figure of 2.8%. It has prompted speculation although many casual dining chains continue to expand, restaurant supply might soon start to outstrip demand in some places. The Market Growth Monitor also revealed growth in restaurant openings remains reasonably even across Britain, with all major regions increasing their supply of dry-led licensed premises in the year to December 2015. Growth was fastest in the north east and Wales, at 2.9% each. Scotland increased its supply of licensed premises by 0.8% in the year to December – suggesting the impact of the tightening of drink-drive limits might be lower than feared, while growth in openings of licensed premises in London was lower than the national average at 0.4%, reflecting suggestions the market in the capital may be over-heating. CGA Peach vice-president Peter Martin said: “The casual dining sector remains buoyant, with established names rolling out and a steady flow of new concepts arriving to keep them on their toes. But with the pace of openings slowing, our latest Market Growth Monitor will give pause for thought to anyone who thinks the boom will last forever. Competition for market share is fiercer than ever, and the risk of saturation is likely to be an increasingly pressing issue this year.” AlixPartners managing director Paul Hemming added: “While the Market Growth Monitor data shows a slowing of new openings, it’s important to remember this is a net figure. It does not capture the ebb and flow of existing sites changing hands between operators, and the ongoing march of the multi-site branded operators taking market share from independents. That said, it is inevitable that site expansion will at some point slow, especially against the fierce expansion rate of recent times. It is becoming increasingly hard to find good sites at economic rents. With the backdrop of wage inflation, it is also difficult for operators to improve their operating margins, so many will just have to accept a lower return on capital as they grow.” The AlixPartners and CGA Peach Market Growth Monitor is compiled quarterly from data supplied by CGA’s Outlet Index, a continually updated database of all licensed premises. 

Industry News:

Propel to launch Premium service: Propel is four years old on 1 March and is launching a Premium subscription service. The current free service to all existing readers remains the same, but readers can opt to upgrade to receive the Propel Premium service from 1 March. Propel Premium subscribers will be able to receive the Morning Newsletter, which is sent at 6.30am each weekday, 12 hours earlier at 6.30pm the day before. Subscribers will also receive a copy of the Propel database of 500 multi-site companies, which will be updated every six months, and receive a digital version of Propel Quarterly magazine a week before publication. For operators, annual subscription costs £345 plus VAT per year, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. For suppliers, annual subscription costs £445 plus VAT, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. To subscribe to the Propel Premium service, email

Casual Dining Group poised to sell La Tasca’s US division for $2.5m, 22 new Las Iguanas sites scheduled: Casual Dining Group is poised to sell its four-strong La Tasca business in the US, located in the Washington DC area, to its US-based management. The company’s four La Tasca sites are believed to produce turnover of circa £5.5m and have traded well in recent years – the sale price is understood to be circa $2.5m. Casual Dining Group bought the 42-strong La Tasca business last year and the estate is set to shrink to 12 units with the remainder converted to Casual Dining Group brands. Chief executive Steve Richards told Propel: “We will invest heavily in the remaining sites – it’s a cracking business.” Meanwhile, Casual Dining Group is set to expand its Las Iguanas business to 61 sites by the end of this calendar year – seven new sites have been opened since acquisition and a further 15 openings are scheduled. Richards told an audience at yesterday’s Casual Dining Show: “Las Iguanas is about experienced-based dining – 63% of the customer base is 24 year-old women. 88% of the operational managers are home-grown and 80% of the general managers are also home-grown – that’s industry leading. The brand develops its people fantastically well and has an awesome culture. The (next) big thing is taking this brand into leisure parks – that’s the next piece for the brand stretch for Las Iguanas. We’ll also be taking it international. The spiciness of the food particularly appeals to the Asian and Middle Eastern markets – we get a lot of incoming calls from potential franchisees. I don’t think there’s another high street casual dining brand that averages 4.3 on TripAdvisor – it’s top of the pack. It’s one of the things we looked at and said ‘wow’ – how do they do that? They’re getting fives in some sites.” Richards added that he believes Bella Italia has the potential to reach 300 sites, with Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas capable of growing to 150 sites each, with an overall return on investment of 30%.

Pret A Manger and Starbucks to roll-out alcohol sales in UK stores following late-night London trials: Pret A Manger and Starbucks will expand alcohol sales across its UK sites following late-night trials at flagship venues in London. Pret A Manger opened its first evening restaurant in the Strand in April last year in a bid to attract theatre-goers, with alcohol served with meals. Pret also sells alcohol at its Gatwick Airport outlet. It will now look at other sites where it could sell alcohol. Nick Sandler, creative chef at Pret A Manger, said: “Customers have been asking us for some time about creating an early evening menu, so we’re giving it a go.” Starbucks opened its Covent Garden “Star R” venue last year, where customers also enjoy table service and can order wine, craft beers and tapas after 4pm. Starbucks said more Star R venues would follow – in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, told the Daily Mail: “As long as there’s a level playing field, and coffee shops have to jump through the same hoops as pubs when it comes to the burdens of the licensing system, there is no general reason why coffee shops shouldn’t serve alcohol.” Anthony Pender, chairman of the British Institute of Innkeeping, added: “We do not believe this will have a long-term negative effect on the pub industry because we provide a very different experience to these types of food outlet.”

Casual Dining Restaurant & Pub Awards 2016 – winners announced: The UK’s best casual dining operators were revealed at the inaugural Casual Dining Restaurant & Pub Awards, organised by Diversified Communications UK. JD Wetherspoon, French brasserie Cote, Wagamama, Azzurri Group-owned Zizzi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Alex Reilley, executive vice-chairman of Loungers, were among those who scooped awards, presented at a ceremony on Wednesday (24 February), at The Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London on the first day of the Casual Dining show. Casual Dining group event director Chris Brazier said: “The casual dining market is thriving, thanks in large part to the fantastic innovations and dedication of operators and the incredible dining experience they offer. The launch of the Casual Dining Restaurant & Pub Awards is a much overdue opportunity to celebrate their achievements and reward those companies which are making a real difference to the growth of this dynamic, fast-moving sector.” The full list of winners: Champion of the Year: Alex Reilley, New Concept: The Beer Kitchen, Social Responsibility: Ed’s Easy Diner, Marketing Campaign: Zizzi, Best Designed Independent Restaurant: Suvlaki, Best Designed Multiple Casual Dining Restaurant: Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Best Designed Casual Dining Pub or Bar: The Pint Shop, Independent Casual Dining Restaurant: Project Pie, Independent Casual Dining Pub: The Northey Arms, Employer of the Year: Wagamama, Multiple Casual Dining Pub Brand of the Year: JD Wetherspoon, Multiple Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year: Cote.

Hartlepool licensing committee rejects EMRO request: Hartlepool Borough Council has rejected a request by the Safer Hartlepool Partnership to launch a formal consultation on the introduction of an Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO) in the town. At present there are no EMROs in force in England and Wales, with no others being considered. In 2013, Hartlepool considered an EMRO but did not proceed in the face of strong trade opposition. At a meeting of its licensing committee yesterday (Thursday, 25 February) to “reconsider the feasibility of introducing an EMRO”, the committee resolved not to impose one at this time. A council officer said: “The decision of the licensing committee was to refer the matter back to where it came from [the Safer Hartlepool Partnership] and to ask them for their evidence as to why they believe one is needed.”

Mintel – 2016 set to be a record year for holidays, staycations most popular in 2015: Brits appear to have caught the travel bug with it set to be a record year for holidays, according to new research from Mintel. While 82% of consumers took a holiday last year, one in four (24%) said they expect to spend more on holidays in 2016, while 7% plan to take a “holiday of a lifetime”. Staycations were the most popular holiday in 2015. The number of Brits taking any holiday in the UK rose to 62% in 2015, up from 58% the year before, with consumers holidaying in England rising from 49% to 53%. The research indicated fathers with children under the age of 16 are setting their sights further afield. Almost one third (30%) of this group said they expect to take more holidays during the next 12 months and one in ten (10%) plan to take the trip of a lifetime. Overall, nine in ten (91%) fathers with children under the age of 16 took a holiday in the past year. The number of Brits taking any holiday rose to 82% in 2015, up from 78% in 2014. One quarter (26%) of holidaymakers said they expect to take more short breaks, between one to three nights, over the next 12 months, compared with one in five (21%) who said they expect to take longer holidays.

Geranium becomes first Danish restaurant to receive three Michelin stars, ranks ahead of Noma: Danish restaurant Noma may have been voted the world’s best four times, but it is no longer top in its home country, according to the latest Michelin Guide. The Nordic edition of the French-based guide gave its prized three-star rating to another Copenhagen eatery, the Geranium – the first in the country to receive top Michelin marks, reports The Guardian. Noma, which is run by Rene Redzepi and was named best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, was again awarded two stars. Geranium’s top chef Rasmus Kofoed – who received one of international cooking’s most coveted prizes, the Bocuse d’Or in 2011 – opened his biofriendly restaurant in 2007, won his first Michelin star in 2012 and his second a year later. France’s La Liste, which collates the views of about 200 gastronomic guides and websites, puts Geranium at 173 in its global rankings, ahead of Noma at number 217. The only other Nordic restaurant to receive three Michelin stars is Oslo’s Maaemo, which also got its top rating this year, joining the exclusive club of just 116 three-star eateries worldwide.

European hotel industry reports positive January: The European hotel industry recorded positive results in January with increases in occupancy, average daily room rate and revpar, according to research from STR Global. Compared with January 2015, Europe reported a 1.4% increase in occupancy to 54.7%, a 1.5% rise in average daily room rate to €100.52 and a 3.0% lift in revpar to €55.03. Russia was among the top performing countries with a 2% increase in occupancy to 42.5% as well as double-digit growth in average daily room rate (11%) and revpar (13.2%). Budapest, Dublin, Tel Aviv in Israel, and Belgrade in Serbia were the best performing cities with the latter reporting a 55.2% increase in occupancy to 42% and 31% rise in revpar.

Company News:

JD Wetherspoon launches free smartphone app: JD Wetherspoon has launched a free smartphone app, which includes a digital version of its magazine as well as a pub locater and the nutritional details of meals. The digital version will be published in tandem with each printed magazine and offer the same content. The digital version will feature links, including to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook content, while the app also contains an archive of editions dating to August 2014. Wetherspoon News editor Eddie Gershon said: “We print 280,000 copies of Wetherspoon News – read by two million customers. However, with this new app version we wanted to appeal to a different readership, offering a more immersive and interactive experience.” The app also features a GPS functionality for users to find their nearest JD Wetherspoon pub or hotel, with the ability to “tick off” venues they have visited and view opening hours, as well as nutritional information and allergens of meals and the range of drinks on offer. The app shows a picture of each meal and includes ingredients, calorie content and whether they are suitable for vegetarians or vegans. App users can also download and print JD Wetherspoon vouchers and view the history of a pub.

Antic London opens new freehold site in Peckham: Antic London, the Downing-backed London pub operator, opened its latest freehold site – John The Unicorn in Peckham yesterday (Thursday, 25 February). The company has launched the venue in Peckham Rye, which features an interior of industrial brickwork, exposed beams, textured wallpaper and marble surfaces. The site has a lounge and bar with banquette seating upstairs. There is a roster of cask ales and rotational beers direct from local brewers Orbit Beers and Gipsy Hill Brewing Company as well as cocktails and a full wine list. The food menu, which will be launched shortly, will feature modern and traditional British plates, all created from fresh seasonal produce. Ahead of the kitchen opening, Hao Hao Chi will be serving its Chinese street food over the opening weekend. Antic has an estate of 34 sites, including those in development, of which 28 are freehold.

Multi-site brothers secure third Hertfordshire site, first with Charles Wells: Multi-site operators Bain and Bridges, run by brothers Tom and Jamie Bainbridge, has secured its third Hertfordshire site – The White Hart at Welwyn Garden City – after teaming up with Bedford-based brewer and retailer Charles Wells. The brothers are refurbishing the bar and restaurant, their first Charles Wells lease, prior to reopening in March. Further upgrades will be made to the 13 letting bedrooms on a phased basis to ensure the business can continue uninterrupted. The Bainbridges operate The Tilbury and The Old Post Office Tea Rooms in Datchworth. Tom Bainbridge will head up the food offer while his brother, who has three Michelin-starred experience, will lead the service delivery. 

Thai Square owner returns to profit: Catering UK, owner of the 14-outlet Thai Square restaurant chain, has returned to profit. The company recorded a pre-tax profit of £689,131 for the year ending 30 June 2015, compared with a loss of £488,339 the year before, according to accounts filed with Companies House. Turnover fell to £14,015,300, compared with £14,338,433 the previous year. The company has 12 outlets in London along with sites in St Albans and Windsor. The business is owned by Haim Danous and Michael Cohen.

BrewDog shares beer recipes for free with DIY Dog: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has shared the recipe of each of its beers – for free. The company has launched DIY Dog as it pays tribute to its home-brewing roots with the recipes available to download from its website. It stated: “Many of the classic BrewDog beers were developed during our home-brewing days, and we still use a 50L system to develop new beers and new recipes here at BrewDog. Home-brewing is very much ingrained in our DNA at BrewDog as so many of the world’s great craft breweries can trace their origins back to home-brewing. With DIY Dog we wanted to do something that has never been done before as well as paying tribute to our home-brewing roots. We wanted to take all of our recipes, every single last one, and give them all away for free, to the amazing global home-brewing community. We have always loved the sharing of knowledge, expertise and passion in the craft beer community and we wanted to take that spirit of collaboration to the next level. So here it is. The keys to our kingdom. Every single BrewDog recipe, ever. So copy them, tear them to pieces, adapt them, but most of all, enjoy them. They are well travelled but with plenty of miles still left on the clock. Just remember to share your brews, and share your results. Sharing is caring. A near decade-long anthology of BrewDog recipes, scaled down to make it easier to follow for those wanting to have a go at home.”

PizzaExpress submits plans to install shipping containers as open-air dining rooms outside Edinburgh restaurant: PizzaExpress has submitted plans to install specially adapted shipping containers as open-air dining rooms outside one of its restaurants in Edinburgh. The company has unveiled proposals to revamp a square in the World Heritage Site at its Holyrood Road venue – next to Hemma bar and only a stone’s throw from the Scottish Parliament, reports the Edinburgh Evening News. In a statement, Quadrant Design, which is working on the plans for the company, said: “PizzaExpress proposes to remove the existing metal structure canopies to the external area of this restaurant and improve this space by installing shipping containers that have been adapted for customer dining. The container doors will be opened during the day for customer use and will be locked shut at night. They will be painted to contrast with the existing building and to brighten up the outdoor area. The existing trees and external flooring will be kept.”

Boston Tea Party reveals Moseley site falls through: Bristol-based independent cafe brand Boston Tea Party has revealed its plans to open in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley have fallen through. The company had previously agreed a lease to open in the former Kwik Fit building in Alchester Road but said the deal was now off. It stated on its Facebook page: “Part of the agreement required the landlord to undertake a series of works to ensure the building was structurally sound and enable us to renovate the space. The works were not completed within the time-frame the agreement specified and as such the legally binding element expired. It’s now understood that the works have been completed and hence we had hoped to be in a position to complete on the deal. However, the landlord has since exercised his right to lease the building to a third party.” Managing director Sam Roberts added: “We are very disappointed that the six to 12 months we have invested in trying to make this happen has come to nothing. It’s frustrating that it hasn’t worked out. We are still very much looking to open in Moseley and we are looking at new locations so hopefully it won’t be too long before we find something.”

Cocktail Trading Co opens Brick Lane venue after Soho relocation: Cocktail Trading Co, developed by Ben Alcock, Elliot Ball, Olly Brading and Andy Mil, has opened a venue in Brick Lane after its relocation from Soho. Carnaby CTC closed on 9 January, with the Brick Lane site supposed to launch on 17 February. However, after a short delay caused by, among other things “emergency dentistry”, the venue opened last night (Thursday, 25 February). The venue also launched a new menu, which it referred to on its website and Facebook page as a “bit silly”. Cocktail Trading Co also has a venue at Smithfields and opened a cocktail bar and “punch house” in Bristol last year called Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Indian Tiffin Room secures finance for second site: A restaurant focused on authentic Indian street food is launching its second venue in Greater Manchester after receiving support from Business Finance Solutions (BFS). The Indian Tiffin Room, which opened in Cheadle in 2013, is creating 16 jobs by launching an eatery on First Street in Manchester city centre, close to HOME and the four-star INNSIDE hotel. BFS, a government-backed alternative lender supported by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, backed the launch of the company’s first outlet. Nathan Wightman, business loans manager at BFS, said: “Having provided the Indian Tiffin Room with the support they needed three years ago for their first restaurant in Cheadle, it is enormously gratifying to see just what a great success story they have become and to be able to support them with the launch of their second venture. They have created a unique dining experience that brings the authentic flavours of Indian street food to life and their cooking and hospitality is now recognised and respected by diners from across the world. The Indian Tiffin Room already has a fantastic track record and we are proud to be part of their ambitious expansion and growth plans for the future and to help keep Manchester on the culinary map.” In 2015, The Indian Tiffin Room in Cheadle was ranked the third best Indian restaurant in the UK by TripAdvisor, the only restaurant in Greater Manchester to make it into the top ten. 

Scottish better burger concept Boozy Cow eyes UK-wide expansion: Scottish better burger concept Boozy Cow has announced plans to open two sites annually during the next five years as it eyes UK-wide expansion. The brand, run by Garreth Wood’s Speratus Group and which donates all profits to charity, is in the final stages of acquiring a site in Stirling and another in Dundee, both due to open this year. Speratus also plans to move Boozy Cow Aberdeen to a larger site in late spring, while it has pinpointed Glasgow, Perth, London and Newcastle as key locations for growth. Wood said: “At Speratus, we are extremely proud of the Boozy Cow concept and clearly our customers agree. Their loyalty has enabled us to announce a healthy profit from two restaurants.” Boozy Cow has raised more than £250,000 to be shared by five Scottish charities and Wood said he was confident combined donations would be more than £1m by the end of the company’s 2018 financial year. Wood described Boozy Cow as a “fresh twist on the typical burger joint with a focus on great quality burgers, craft beers and exciting cocktails in an edgy and urban environment”.

Leasehold of Greene King-owned pub in Bowdon sold to Bracken Pub Co for £150,000: The leasehold of the Greene King-owned Stamford Arms in Bowdon, Greater Manchester, has been sold, paving the way for a major investment by a new Dubai-based company. Leisure Trade Industries, represented by Savills, has sold the leasehold to The Bracken Pub Co for just under the asking price of £150,000. It had been marketed as having “huge scope” to increase the turnover of the business, which has been about £500,000 per annum. The deal for the two-storey pub in The Firs includes the bar and lounge area, large function room, basement beer cellar and three-bedroom tenants’ accommodation. It’s a ten-year rolling lease, with the new leaseholders having an automatic right to renew the lease when it expires. It’s not yet known what plans the new leaseholders have for the pub, but it’s understood they will be making a significant investment in a bar/restaurant format. Savills licensed leisure director Tom Cunningham told Altrincham Today a higher offer had been received for the pub but the owners had opted for The Bracken Pub Co, which has now renamed its company Kitchen & Tap Co. Its directors are Alex Bracken, Rhitu Parihar and Nicholas Theaker, who all work for Dubai-based hospitality company 4-Front Facilities Management. Theaker was previously the general manager of Simon Rimmer’s Earle restaurant in Hale before moving to take the same post at Rimmer’s The Scene restaurant in Dubai.

Tasty to open first Wildwood site in Lincolnshire: Tasty’s plans for its first Wildwood site in Lincolnshire have been approved. It plans to open a restaurant and 70-seater cinema at the former Mall Shopping Centre in High Street, Lincoln, in July. Diners at the prime city centre spot can enjoy pizza, pasta and grilled meals such as burgers and steaks, with a three-course set menu with a cinema ticket included for less than £20. The ground floor of the venue will house a bar and restaurant area, with stairs leading up through the centre and the cinema on the first floor. Wildwood has 31 restaurants in the UK, including venues in Peterborough and Ely in Cambridgeshire, which also has a cinema room.

Bukowski Grill opens third site in Soho: Bukowski Grill has opened its new flagship restaurant in Soho, London – its third site. The company, founded by Robin Freeman, has launched the 70-seat venue, which is its biggest to date, in D’arblay Street, reports The Handbook. Inspired by an American diner, Bukowski Grill showcases British produce cooked over charcoal in a josper oven as well as its signature range of hamburgers with toppings such as Morbier cheese, pickled red cabbage and chilli pickled Brussels sprouts and in-house-made condiments. There is also a new weekend brunch menu featuring cornmeal-crusted soft shell crab, poached eggs and hot sauce Hollandaise along with a breakfast margarita. Bukowski Grill’s other restaurants are at the Boxpark in Shoreditch and Brixton Market.

Mac & Wild scoops UK’s Best Burger award: Wild Game Co’s Scottish restaurant Mac & Wild won a prestigious prize at the National Burger Awards on Wednesday night (24 February). The Veni-Moo, which features one beef patty and one venison patty, plus cheese, bérnaise sauce and caramelised onions in a brioche bun, was named the UK’s Best Burger 2016. The Veni-Moo also featured in Time Out’s Top 10 Dishes of 2015 and won Best Signature Burger in the 2015 National Burger Awards. Street food operator Wild Game Co’s first permanent home, Mac & Wild launched in Great Titchfield Street in London’s West End last autumn. The restaurant features Scotland’s “finest wild venison, game and seafood in a rustic setting”. Founded by Andy Waugh, all meat is sourced and butchered by his family’s game-butchering business, which has been operating for more than 30 years.

Wriggle launches Better Lunch Project to connect office workers with independent venues: Last-minute restaurant deals app Wriggle has launched a project to connect restaurants, cafes and bars with local offices. Wriggle claims 33% of office workers eat an identical lunch every day and has launched the Better Lunch Project across the UK to enable local independent businesses to fill lunchtime trade and reach a targeted audience who can return regularly. Subscribers receive hand-picked lunch deals via email or text from participating venues within a few minutes of their office. Customers purchase through the email and receive a code to use at the venue. Wriggle said that during a trial in London and Bristol, running since September, the project “tempted 8,000 office workers away from their desks into local independent establishments”. Wriggle founder Rob Hall said: “Building relationships with local offices is absolute gold-dust for food and drink establishments, with the repeat trade it can drive. At the same time, office workers are on the hunt for good value and exciting lunches – so we’ve come up with a simple mechanism to marry the two together.” Earlier this month, Wriggle hit its £350,000 target on crowdfunding platform Seedrs to prepare its technology for a scalable launch across the UK. The company acts as a restaurant discovery tool and offers users same-day discounts to fill excess capacity.

Five Guys lodges plans for new site in Aberdeen: Five Guys has submitted plans to open a new restaurant in Aberdeen. The company has lodged an application with the city council to convert the former Gap shop in Union Street, reports The Press & Journal. Five Guys, founded by Jerry Murrell in the US in 1986, currently has five outlets in Scotland – three in Glasgow and one each in Edinburgh and Dundee.

Douglas Jack – Cineworld has good medium-term prospects: Numis Securities leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said Cineworld has good medium-term prospects. Issuing an ‘Add’ note with a target price of 600p, he said: “For the preliminary results, due on 10 March, we forecast profit before tax rising by 28% to £96.0m (consensus: £96.0m), with earnings per share rising by 16% (30% half one; 7% half two). In January 2016, the worse-than-expected 8.8% fall in UK market admissions was fully offset by higher average market pricing, in addition to which Cineworld’s overseas earnings should be benefiting from sterling depreciation. Self-financed expansion remains strong, and the film slates in 2017E and 2018E are becoming increasingly attractive. In 2015E, Cineworld’s UK box office increased by 11.2%, comprising: circa 3.5% admissions; circa 7% average prices (+8% half one; +6% half two) and circa 1% expansion. Cineworld’s admissions growth was below the market’s (+9.2%), partly due to circa 30% of its admissions being subscriptions-based, but its average price growth was broadly in line with the market’s 7.3% increase. Retail rose by 11.4%. Other income was up 15.5%. In 2016E, the film release schedule is weaker than 2015E, with easier admission comparables in half one (-0.4%) than half two (+8%). We believe our FY forecast assumption of a 2% fall in box office per screen is cautious, given that Cineworld should outperform the market in relation to admissions (due to subscriptions) and that average pricing growth (+9% for the market in January) has remained strong. Upside risk is limited by the likelihood that a more family-orientated film schedule will limit average ticket price growth in quarter two to four in 2016. Mainland Europe/Israel box office increased by 12.7% in 2015E in local currency, with retail up 18.5%. Like the UK, we cautiously forecast a 2% fall in box office per screen in 2016E, although this may be tougher to achieve (than in the UK) due to lower average pricing growth (up 2.1% in half one 2015). During 2015E, the company added 137 new screens net, following the opening of ten multiplex cinemas in the UK and eight in mainland Europe. In 2016E, we forecast a 146 increase in the number of screens (69 in the UK; 77 in mainland Europe). Recent devaluation in sterling is worth a 3-4% upgrade for 2016E, by our estimates, if sterling continues at current levels, but we are upgrading by 1-2% as a result of adopting more cautious admission assumptions for 2016E. We forecast double-digit earnings growth for 2016E due to strong expansion, ahead of potentially very strong film slates (featuring Avatar and Star Wars) in 2017E and 2018E.”

MenuLab launches Seedrs crowdfunding pitch for allergen-tracking app: MenuLab, a smartphone and tablet app that helps food businesses track allergens in food, has launched a £120,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Seedrs. Users can select ingredients from a database of 10,000 products or scan a product’s barcode to see which items contain allergens. Since December 2014, venues have a legal responsibility to provide allergen information to customers. The Lincoln-based company behind MenuLab said the app would also allow venues to discover the nutritional content in recipes, such as calories, salt, fat, and sugar. The company is seeking investment of £120,006, in return for a 12% equity stake. It said the app is on schedule to have more than 100 pre-registered users prior to its launch, and a partner who will sell the app into two European countries, with plans to expand to other countries in Europe within the first 18 months. MenuLab will charge businesses a monthly subscription, starting at £10 a month, which would increase depending on the number of functions a company used and food outlets it operated. MenuLab said it planned to use the majority of money raised through the campaign on marketing to help the app succeed and grow. A spokesman said its target market is small and medium-sized food businesses, with the aim of having more than 1,000 paying customers by November.

Merlin to be prosecuted by HSE over Alton Towers rollercoaster crash: Merlin is to be prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over a rollercoaster accident at Alton Towers that left five people seriously injured. Two female passengers on the Smiler ride suffered leg amputations and three others were also seriously injured when their carriage collided with a stationary carriage on the same track last June. Neil Craig, head of operations for HSE in the Midlands, said: “This was a serious incident with life-changing consequences for five people. We have conducted a very thorough investigation and consider that there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution.” Merlin Attractions, which operates the Staffordshire theme park, will appear at North Staffordshire Justice Centre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, in April to face a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act. In a statement, Merlin said: “We have co-operated fully with the HSE throughout their investigation while continuing to support those who were injured in the accident. The company completed its own investigation and published the results in November, accepting responsibility for what happened. We have also kept the HSE fully informed of the subsequent actions that we have taken to ensure that something like this cannot happen again.”

Work starts on Matthew Clark’s new Yorkshire base: Work has started on drinks distributor Matthew Clark’s new Yorkshire base at Thorp Arch Estate near Wetherby. The company will move to the 62,925 square foot site in the summer from its current home at the Derwent Valley Industrial Estate in Dunnington, near York. The new distribution hub will feature nine dock levellers, two level-entry goods access doors, a large goods yard and 6,350 square foot of office space, reports The Business Desk. Matthew Clark, which has its national headquarters in Bristol and supplies more than 16,000 hospitality venues in the UK, will relocate 90 staff to Thorp Arch Estate.

Staycity to open 125 additional apartments at Heathrow site on Tuesday: Aparthotel operator Staycity will open 125 additional apartments at its London Heathrow site on Tuesday (1 March). The company has also added a guest lounge and cafe on the ground floor and breakfast area and terrace on the podium level. The extension has seen Staycity move into the neighbouring property, giving it a total of 269 studio, one and two-bed apartments. Staycity Heathrow is the second location to include a dedicated lounge area. The ground-floor cafe, which will be open to non-residents, will sell tea and ground coffee with continental breakfasts and light lunches also available. The site, which is a minute’s walk from Hayes & Harlington station, with a 12-minute service into Heathrow’s terminals, first opened in May 2012 and has an average occupancy of 85%. Earlier this month, Staycity opened 170 new apartments in Birmingham’s Newhall Square, the company’s second site in the city. Staycity now has sites in eight major cities across the UK and Europe with expansion plans to grow from 1,000 apartments to 3,500 over the next 24 months.

Diageo announced $75m agreement for United Spirits chairman to step down: Diageo has announced a $75m agreement with Dr Vijay Mallya for his resignation as chairman and non-executive director of United Spirits and from the boards of other United Spirits group companies. The financial terms of the agreement with Mallya provide for a payment of $75 million over a five-year period. Following Mallya’s resignation, the United Spirits board will appoint Mahendra Kumar Sharma, currently independent non-executive director and chairman of the audit committee of United Spirits, as chairman, reports The agreement ends Diageo’s prior agreement with Mallya regarding his position at United Spirits; brings to an end the uncertainty relating to the governance of United Spirits; puts in place a five-year global non-compete, non-interference and standstill arrangement with Mallya. The payment will be charged to exceptional items in the year ending 30 June 2016. As part of the arrangements announced today, Diageo has also extended Smirnoff’s sponsorship of the Force India Formula One team of which Mallya is team principal and part-owner for the next five seasons. The cost of this sponsorship continues to be $15 per season. Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes said: “India is an exciting growth opportunity, and United Spirits has the management team, strategy and capability to deliver on that opportunity. The agreement announced today is in the best interests of both Diageo and USL and allows USL to build on its strong platform in one of the biggest spirits markets in the world.”

Propel partners with Digital Blonde for Advanced Social Media Masterclass: Propel is partnering with digital marketing company Digital Blonde for the Advanced Social Media Masterclass, building on last year’s Social Media Masterclass with all-new content. The event takes place on Wednesday, 20 April at One Moorgate Place in London and will provide a comprehensive overview of how to make the best use of social media. Digital Blonde founder Karen Fewell will share research into the importance of social media in customers’ lives as well as insight into the psychology of food and drink marketing in order to produce persuasive social media activity. The day will also include advice on using storytelling techniques to achieve stronger results in marketing and social media campaigns as well as how to use analytics to develop a social media strategy. There will also be a first-look at Digital Blonde’s “Love, Lust and Trust” research, which will unveil the best loved pub and bar brands and what can be learned from their social strategies. Tickets are £295 for Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers members and £345 for non-members and to book email

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