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Thu 22nd Mar 2018 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Premium and healthier soft drinks to ‘plug the alcohol gap’: Premium and healthier soft drinks are set to “plug the alcohol gap” in 2018, according to Britvic’s latest Soft Drinks Review. Soft drinks accounted for £6.9bn in sales in 2017, with standout growth of 2.1% in the foodservice sector. However, the licensed sector saw a 1.5% dip in sales. In 2017, the category saw a continued shift towards healthy living, with sales of low and no-sugar soft drinks adding £104m sales to the category. The no-sugar cola market grew 57%, with Pepsi Max and Coke Zero adding a combined £63m. Food to go was one of the fastest-growing areas (7.4%) for soft drinks in 2017, with almost three-quarters (72%) of occasions including a soft drink, a 1.8% increase on 2016. More than one-fifth of consumers, however, either didn’t have a drink or drank tap water when eating out, a trend that has increased year on year. Premium soft drink sales grew 31% in 2017, adding £74m in value largely thanks to the growth in mixer sales. Fever-Tree led the way, growing sales by more than 65% as the brand enjoyed the “gin effect”, where mixer sales grew alongside that of premium spirits. One in five eating out visits involves children and the report said parents were looking for healthy soft drinks they “could trust”. Britvic said 90% of parents were looking to reduce their children’s sugar intake and operators should look to pure juice, smoothies and “softails” to provide more exciting menu choices. The company said operators should look at providing a range that suited different age groups as a “teenager wouldn’t want to be seen drinking the same brands as a five-year-old”. Britvic forecast the soft drinks category would increase 1.5% in 2018 to £89.2m, with trends including pairing soft drinks with meals, and a rise in infused water sales. Russell Goldman, commercial director, foodservice and licensed at Britvic GB, said: “By getting their soft drinks range right, tailoring it to their customer’s specific needs and creating premium experiences with sensational drinks, operators can grow their profits through the soft drinks category.”

Industry News:

Social Media Strategy In A Day open for bookings: Social Media Strategy In A Day, an event aimed at allowing companies to develop and hone their social media strategy is open for bookings. The event features all-new content and insights to allow companies to increase brand exposure and broaden their reach. Propel has partnered with digital marketing company Digital Blonde for the one-day advanced workshop that will cover everything a marketing department should be thinking about when it comes to social strategy. The event, which takes place on Thursday, 26 April at One Moorgate Place in London, will open with Digital Blonde founder Karen Fewell revealing updates from recent industry reports and analysing insightful statistics. Attendees will be among the first to hear what she took away from the SXSW conference in the US. You will also learn the “top ten principles of persuasion for hospitality businesses”, which will show you how to apply psychological principles to help people buy your products and services. Craig Hill will help you unearth your brand character and show you how to tell others about it in an interesting and engaging way. During the “inspiration session”, you will look at ten killer social media campaigns – what worked and why are people talking about them. The “interactive guide to content brainstorming” will force you to look at a campaign in a more emotional and engaging way, while the Digital Blonde team will also look at the changes Facebook made to its algorithm earlier this year and reveal what it means for your social account. The “understanding user behaviour” section of the event will answer key questions such as how do you engage with millennials and do Gen Z even use Facebook any more? Fewell will round up the morning session by sharing the latest updates on the incoming General Data Protection Regulation. The afternoon will start with a quick-fire round of 20 questions in 20 minutes, while Jamie Riddell, of pay-as-you-go analytics platform BirdSong Data, will reveal useful things about user behaviour in the hospitality sector. The “ultimate content toolkit” talk will reveal the tools you need to create engaging content cost-effectively from your mobile phone. Social copywriter Nicola Proud will share her top copywriting hints and tips and reveal how to write Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts that stop people scrolling. The event will also reveal how to use Instagram stories to drive revenue for your business and show the key differences between the social advertising platforms on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Finally, the team will tell you where to find influential people, what to pay them and how to successfully build them into your strategy. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium members and £345 plus VAT for non-members and can be booked by emailing anne.steele@propelinfo.com

UKHospitality urges government to act on rates relief: UKHospitality, the new unified voice for the sector following the merger between the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the British Hospitality Association, has written to the minister for local government, Rishi Sunak, calling for an overhaul in the system of discretionary business rates relief and urging the government to undertake a full review of the entire rates system. The letter highlights “flaws” in the system, which was introduced last year, and raises concerns that relief distributed by local authorities may be in breach of EU state aid rules. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The introduction of discretionary relief for businesses was well-intentioned but has caused hospitality businesses a number of significant headaches. Local authorities were in many cases slow to begin distributing the relief and we saw numerous examples of councils attaching arbitrary stipulations to the reliefs. These stipulations ran counter to the spirit of the fund and unfairly penalised businesses that were entitled to relief. We are also concerned the application of the relief may unintentionally breach state aid rules designed to avoid a distortion of competition in the EU. We have informed the government we believe discretionary rates relief should not fall into this category and hard-working hospitality businesses should not be penalised in any way for accessing relief to which they are entitled. We have called on the government to act to ensure hospitality businesses that contribute so much to their local communities are not punished and reiterated our call for a full review of the business rates system that is long overdue.” Meanwhile, UKHospitality has warned the government it must act to lower costs for businesses or risk further joblessness and loss of vital hospitality businesses. The warning came after new data showed an increase in unemployment of 24,000. Last month, sector-specific figures showed a decrease of almost 54,000 employed in the last quarter of 2017.

Development partner appointed to transform Wigan Pier into multi-leisure destination: Manchester-based developer Step Places has been appointed to oversee the regeneration of Wigan Pier into a multi-leisure destination. Step Places has been chosen to lead the project by Wigan Council in partnership with the Canal & River Trust. The plans involve transforming derelict 18th century industrial buildings into a mixed-use scheme designed to be a catalyst for wider development of the area. The assets to be transformed are The Warehouse, The Orwell pub, and the Education Centre. Step Places managing director Harinder Dhaliwal told Insider Media: “Our proposals will see the buildings become a multi-functional leisure venue promoting arts, culture and events.” Wigan Pier was originally a jetty where wagons would unload coal on to canal barges. It became famous thanks to a music hall joke by George Formby senior and George Orwell’s novel The Road To Wigan Pier, a graphic description of the plight of the English working class in the early 20th century.

Company News:

Starbucks promises 100% pay equality across globe after hitting landmark in US: Starbucks is aiming to eliminate pay disparities based on gender and race, a move it said would level the field for employees across the globe. The company said at its annual meeting it would achieve and maintain 100% equal pay for all its employees, known as partners, who perform similar work in company-operated markets. It did not give a timeline for the goal, which includes countries such as the UK, France, Canada, Japan and China. Starbucks revealed it had already hit the landmark target in the US. Starbucks chief partner officer Lucy Helm said: “It is important as a company of our scale to bring more attention to this critical issue. It is incumbent on us to do more.” In January, Starbucks expanded its parental leave to give non-birth parents up to six weeks paid time off. It also announced paid sick days for the first time and wage increases after a US corporate tax cut. The company also reiterated its target to increase earnings, excluding some items, by at least 12% annually over the next three years. It confirmed its goal to return $15bn to shareholders during the same period. To help sales, Starbucks said it was focused on expanding its premium Reserve brand with new Princi stores and Roastery locations. It pointed to a new marketing push to build “digital relationships” with its more than 60 million monthly customers who aren’t rewards members. It will open mobile order and pay to those who aren’t in its loyalty programme this month. Starbucks said it remained on track to open more than 5,000 stores in China by 2021. The number of stores in China has grown from 800 to 3,200 in the past five years. Meanwhile, one year after its commitment to hire 100,000 “opportunity youth” – the one in eight Americans aged 16 to 24 who aren’t in school or working – Starbucks revealed it had reached 50,000 hires and was on track to meet its goal by 2020.

Frankie Goes To Bollywood passes 50% mark in £100,000 crowdfunding campaign for second site: Frankie Goes To Bollywood has passed the 50% mark in its £100,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open its second venue. The company, founded by Monty Bhurjee, who has run street food concept Popdogs for about four years, is offering a 16.67% equity stake in the business in return for the investment. So far, 121 investors have pledged £50,830 with six days remaining. Frankie Goes To Bollywood opened its first site in Deptford, south east London, in 2016 and has outlined plans for a five-strong estate in the next three years. The pitch states: “By the end of spring we plan to have our second fixed premises open. Using this outlet as our flagship, we plan to implement and tighten our Frankie Goes To Bollywood business model, which will ensure our expansion plans are successful. We aim to open our third site in Oxford by winter 2018/19, with a fourth and fifth site in the Greater London area within the next three years. We also plan to develop our spin-off concept Naania, which we are showcasing at Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival this summer. We plan to open hatches around the City of London within the next two years.” Items on Frankie Goes To Bollywood’s menu include the Bacon Naanwich, Bhangras And Mash, and Poppadom Preach.

Coppa Club opens fifth site, in Henley: Sector investor Hugh Osmond has opened a fifth site for his Coppa Club concept, this time in Henley. Coppa Club, which launched in Sonning-on-Thames in Berkshire in 2014, has opened three further sites in London – in Oxford Circus, St Paul’s and Tower Bridge. Now Osmond has invested £1m to convert a Strada restaurant in Bell Street into Coppa Club’s latest venue, creating almost 30 jobs. An internal wall has been demolished to create a large, open-plan dining area and kitchen along with more casual cafe seating, a log fire, sofas and a bookshelf, reports the Henley Standard. Plans for a sixth Coppa Club are in the pipeline, in nearby Maidenhead. Osmond worked with Luke Johnson to launch the flotation of PizzaExpress in 1993. He founded Punch in 1997 and private equity firm Sun Capital Partners in 2001, which acquired Strada in 2014.

Trading Post Coffee Roasters opens second site as part of East Sussex expansion plan: Brighton-based Trading Post Coffee Roasters has opened its second site, in Lewes. The company has opened the venue in Cliffe High Street on a site previously occupied by The Real Eating Company. The company has acquired the leasehold for an undisclosed sum off a guide premium of £150,000 through agent Fleurets. Trading Post Coffee Roasters said the Lewes acquisition marked the first of a wider East Sussex expansion plan. The company offers a selection of its own artisan blends that are “crafted with two generations of knowledge from its coffee roasters”. Its original coffee house, which also houses its roastery and wholesale capability, is in Ship Street, Brighton. Operations manager Harry Woodhams said: “We are delighted to have secured this great unit in historic Lewes, bringing our unique blend of in-house roasted coffee and a great selection of tea alongside our organic and locally sourced food choice.”

AB InBev reveals water usage and carbon emissions cuts in UK as it unveils 2025 sustainability goals: Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has revealed it has cut water usage by 30% and carbon emissions by 10% at its UK breweries in the past five years as it unveiled new 2025 sustainability goals. The commitments include ensuring all packaging is returnable or made from majority-recycled materials, and reducing carbon emissions by 25% across its supply chain. Meanwhile, all its purchased electricity will come from renewable sources. AB InBev said the new goals built on the progress made through its previous environmental commitments. AB InBev said it had achieved “significant progress” to reduce the environmental footprint of its UK supply chain and breweries. The company now sources more than half its barley from British farms for UK-brewed Budweiser and has added the equivalent of 11,000 football pitches of barley to the UK since 2014. Its breweries in Magor in South Wales and Samlesbury in Lancashire have made 20% and 30% water usage savings respectively in the past five years. Meanwhile, more than 98% of UK-brewed AB InBev products packaged in bottles, cans, kegs and baskets can now be recycled. In addition to the new sustainability goals, AB InBev has announced the launch of the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator. The scheme, powered by ZX Ventures, AB InBev’s accelerator arm, will work with scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs around the world to build and develop solutions for sustainability challenges across the globe. AB InBev North Europe president Jason Warner said: “From investing in smart agriculture to help British farmers grow barley in areas where previously they couldn’t, to ensuring our packaging is recyclable, sustainability is a necessity for our business. We recognise climate change is the most pressing issue confronting our planet and could impact the natural resources we rely on to brew our beers to the highest quality. We’re excited to announce our new goals, as well as update on our progress in the UK, and look forward to working together with local partners to find new ways to protect our environment and communities.”

Team behind Soho nightspot Circa secures Victoria Embankment site for second LGBT-friendly venue: Baby Bull, which is behind Soho nightspot Circa, has secured a site in Victoria Embankment for its second LGBT-friendly venue. The company has acquired the former Opal Bar on a 25-year lease from 1999 through agent CDG Leisure, which sold the site on behalf of the previous tenant. The 7,089 square foot unit at Hungerford House will be transformed to house a club in the basement and an all-day dining and drinking offer on the ground floor. A variety of LGBT-friendly club nights will be hosted downstairs, starting with Circa – The Club, while the upstairs will have a more “casual, relaxed ambience”. Emma Cousins, leisure property consultant at CDG Leisure, who brokered the deal, said: “The popularity of Soho favourite Circa has illustrated a demand for more LGBT-friendly venues in the capital. This is why we are certain Circa – The Club and Hungerford House, with its high footfall and central location, is sure to become a much-needed addition to London’s nightlife scene and a unique offering among the city’s many bars and clubs.”

Brunswick House duo to open Shoreditch restaurant: Brunswick House duo Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke are to open a restaurant in Shoreditch, east London, in May. Building on the success of Brunswick House in Vauxhall, the new venue in Leonard Street will be the pair’s first shared project since Clarke joined as a partner three years ago. Taking cues from south west France following a series of dinners Clarke developed under the Bastien name, the new venue, St Leonard’s, will feature an open-style kitchen based around a large, log-fuelled hearth and adjacent ice bar. The venue will feature a 70-cover dining room and a bar seating 50 that will serve snacks, charcuterie and shellfish, alongside a 200-bin wine list, cocktails and a broad spirits list with an emphasis on cognac and armagnac. There will also be a private dining room, seating 12. An ever-changing menu of vegetables, fish and shellfish will be served from the raw bar, while larger plates such as whole roast duck and ribs of veal will be cooked on the log-fired hearth. The pair have developed the menu while cooking outdoors at Pound Farm in West Sussex, where many of the kitchen’s vegetables are grown.

Scott Hallsworth to open permanent site for pan-Asian concept, in Soho next week: Former Nobu head chef Scott Hallsworth is to open a permanent site next week for his pan-Asian pop-up Freak Scene. Hallsworth opened the pop-up in Farringdon in the City of London in July and launched a crowdfunding campaign in December to help fund a permanent home. Now Freak Scene, which is inspired by Hallsworth’s experience in Japanese, Singaporean and Malay cooking, will open in Frith Street, Soho, on Thursday, 29 March at the former Barrafina site. Guests will be able to sit on stools around a concrete bar and open kitchen or at a ledge circling the edge of the restaurant. Several of Scott’s signature Freak Scene dishes will make the move to Soho, including miso-grilled black cod tacos with sushi rice and scorched red chilli; and chilli crab and avocado wonton bombs. New additions will include a foie gras croissant with star anise jus; and crispy nori cone with tea-smoked beef fillet, pickled onions and wasabi cream. Drinks will include cocktails, sake, a new world wine list, 100% vegan skinny prosecco and yuzu-spiked Wild Beer. Hallsworth said: “I’m thrilled we’ve found a permanent home for Freak Scene. I think Soho is the perfect spot for us. We can’t wait to fire up the grills and introduce our take on Japanese small plates to a whole new part of London.”

Antic to launch Manor of Walworth next month: Antic, the Downing-backed London pub operator led by Antony Thomas, is to launch a venue in south east London next month. The company will open the Manor of Walworth, which is set within the former Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions terrace in Walworth Road and named in honour of the historic Walworth manor house that stood nearby. Antic opened the nearby Elephant & Castle in July 2016. The inside of the Manor of Walworth has been designed to resemble a British manor house and will feature new mantelpieces above existing fireplaces, large mirrors, taxidermy, paintings and exposed brick that was uncovered during building work. The food menu will feature traditional British fare, while drinks will include a rotation of real ale, craft beer and wine. As part of Antic’s continued effort to limit plastic marine waste, only biodegradable straws will be available. Thomas said: “We are big fans of the area and excited to take on this iconic building and turn it into a place for the community to enjoy once again, much like the Elephant & Castle pub, which is again being enjoyed by local people of all ages and cultures.” Antic has more than 40 sites across the capital.

Stonegate to bring Popworld to Milton Keynes: Stonegate Pub Company is to open a site for its Popworld brand in Milton Keynes. The company will launch the venue in a building formerly occupied by MK Social in the Theatre District, reports MKFM. Popworld stated on its Facebook page: “There ain’t no party like a Popworld party and now Popworld is on its way to Milton Keynes.” Stonegate has previously said that since its launch in Southampton in 2014, Popworld has seen four years of growth in sales, margins and profits. In January, Stonegate told Propel there were “many more” openings in the pipeline, while the brand had seen a 94% return on investment in the past year. Popworld currently operates 25 sites having opened its latest in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, earlier this month. Stonegate operates more than 690 pubs split into two divisions – Branded (Slug and Lettuce, Yates’s, Walkabout, Common Room and Venues, which includes Popworld) and Traditional (Proper Pubs, Town Pub & Kitchen, and Classic Inns).

Marston’s to bring The Lost & Found to Bristol next month for fifth site: Marston’s Revere Pub Company is bringing its The Lost & Found concept to Bristol next month. The group will open the venue in Queen’s Road on Friday, 20 April at a site formerly occupied by restaurant Bottelinos. It will feature a bar, restaurant, private boardroom and underground hidden bar. The Lost & Found’s theme features decor based on Victorian “botanical hideaways”, classic cocktails, hand-finished pizza and Josper-grilled steak. Each of the company’s bars is led by a fabled “professor”, whose worldly adventures and tales inspire the drinks on offer. Bristol’s bar will be inspired by Elizabeth E Lightfoot, a mythical professor of astronomy and astrology who will offer guests an insight into her celestial secrets via a menu of cocktails. The Elizabeth E Lightfoot signature serve is a blend of Gosling’s black rum with yellow chartreuse and Briottet Crème de Mure topped with cranberry and lemon juice, hickory smoke and edible glitter. Revere has two Lost & Found venues in Leeds as well as one each in Knutsford and Birmingham.

Harcourt Inns to open third site next month: Harcourt Inns, the new venture from former Racine chef patron Henry Harris and James McCulloch, owner of The Harcourt in Marylebone, will open its third site next month. The company will launch The Hero of Maida in Maida Vale, west London, following a refurbishment of the former Truscott Arms. The Hero of Maida will be modelled on traditional French bistros and seasonal market ingredients. The pub’s signature Sunday roast menu will be reinstated, with classics including seven-hour slow-roasted shoulder of lamb and rosemary. Seasonal vegetables will be championed in daily changing menus. The bar will serve fresh salad and sandwiches throughout the day. The ground floor of the Victorian corner site will be built around a zinc-topped bar serving ale and beer. Upstairs, the dining room menu will be matched with a wine list focusing on old-world choices alongside cocktails and aperitifs. Artwork will be a mix of contemporary and vintage equestrian paintings acknowledging the Napoleonic heritage of Maida Vale, lit by overhanging ceiling lights. The Hero of Maida takes its name from the now vanished pub, Hero of Maida, in which the hero in question was General Sir John Stuart, whose triumph at the Battle of Maida did much to restore British morale. Harcourt Inns’ other sites are the Three Cranes in the City and The Coach in Clerkenwell.

North east-based champagne bar goes into administration: North east-based champagne bar concept Glass House has gone into administration. Mark Nigrelli launched his first venue in Dean Street, Newcastle, three years ago. However, it has now closed along with its sister bar and restaurant in Cramlington, Northumberland, which opened in the Manor Walks shopping centre in June last year. Nigrelli, who previously ran the former JD Wetherspoon pub The Union Rooms in Newcastle, said his company had gone into administration. He told Chronicle Live: “As a small independent company there have been many factors as to why we decided to close our doors. Among many other national companies in financial trouble, we are small and do not have huge financial backing. Alongside the combination of rising Brexit cost pressures, tough trading, lower footfall and expenditure, we have had bad weather recently that hasn’t helped the cause. Rent and business rates increasing, along with staff costs and supplies, has caused a very difficult trading period in the leisure market at the moment.”

Revolution Bars Group bans plastic straws and introduces new measures to cut waste: Revolution Bars Group, the operator of 73 premium bars trading under the Revolution and Revolución de Cuba brands, has removed plastic straws across its estate as part of a new sustainability campaign. Revolution and Revolución de Cuba will champion hashtags #TheFinalStraw and #NoStrawPorFavor while putting an end to its annual order of 30 million plastic straws in time for the launch of its new menus later this month. A biodegradable, fully compostable alternative, manufactured from a plant-based plastic, will be available to customers who specifically ask for a straw. Further measures to cut waste include switching to dehydrated fruit garnishes, replacing all napkins with ceramic coasters at Revolución de Cuba sites, and partnering with free tap water initiative Refill to add all the group’s bars to the 1,600 refill stations currently available across the UK. Revolution Bars Group commercial director Myles Doran said: “We have a huge responsibility as one of the leading premium bar groups in the UK to get behind the ‘no straws’ campaign. By switching to dehydrated fruit we’ve already saved a third on fruit garnish wastage and reduced the number of deliveries required to our bars. The new measures will significantly reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste in our restaurants and bars and hopefully encourage more businesses to follow suit. We need to start acting now if we’re going to make a real difference to our environment and wildlife.”

Scottish Baking Awards founder puts remaining tea room on market: Scottish Baking Awards founder Melanie Andrews has put her remaining tea room on the market. Andrews is selling the freehold of Craigard in Helensburgh off an asking price of more than £200,000 through agent Christie & Co. The property comprises a main 24-cover dining area, kitchen, cake display unit at the entrance, and outside seating. Andrews, who also won the National Award for Scotland for her book, Baking With Melanie Andrews, is now looking to retire. She said: “I always wanted to sell the remaining tea room on a high and I have achieved that.” Josh Hill, business agent at Christie & Co, added: “Having previously helped Ms Andrews sell the leasehold to one of her other businesses in 2002, we are pleased we can continue to support her through the sale of Craigard.”

Wagamama unveils refurbished Cardiff shopping centre site: Wagamama has unveiled its refurbished restaurant at St David’s shopping centre in Cardiff. The company has revamped the venue within the food quarter of the centre in Mill Lane. The new interior reflects the brand’s core Japanese values of “kaizen”, which translates as “positive change”. The revitalised bar is now the design focal point of the reconfigured restaurant surrounded by reclaimed brick, illuminated peach mirrors, textured copper finishes, oak timber and new feature lighting. YO! Sushi and TGI Friday’s both refurbished their restaurants at the centre last year. This week, Wagamama launched a walk-away payment app in partnership with Mastercard, the world first is described as “Uber for diners”. 

YO! Sushi adds ‘useless inventions’ to menu: YO! Sushi has brought the art of chindogu – “useless inventions” – to the UK to offer customers a helping hand with their dining issues. Chindogu, the brainchild of 72-year-old Japanese inventor Kenji Kawakami, are gadgets that solve everyday issues that aren’t usually thought to be worth solving. The YO! Chindogu menu pairs each gadget with its perfect dish to give diners a “unique eating experience they never realised they needed”. The dumpling miso ramen noodles come with a “noodle splash guard” to stop diners’ hair getting dipped in broth, while the hot spicy seafood udon is accompanied by a “noodle cooler” to cool noodles via an electrical fan just before they reach the mouth. The gadgets are available at YO! restaurants in Kensington and South Bank in London and Grainger Street in Newcastle until Sunday (25 March).

Douglas Jack – Ten Entertainment Group has shown strong underlying performance: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said Ten Entertainment Group has shown strong underlying performance. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 325p following the company’s full-year results, Jack said: “Like-for-like sales rose 3.6% in 2017, with bowling, food, drink and other amusements all in growth. Bowling like-for-like sales were strongest, helped by Pins On Strings raising reliability levels. Without the disposed Chelmsford site, full-year like-for-like sales would have been 4.0%, split 3% footfall and 1% spend per head. Supporting like-for-like sales were rising estate quality (through six refurbishments; the historical average return is circa 50%) and service standards – the net promoter score rose from 49% to 66% during the year. Ebitda margins rose by 130 basis points to 26.8% (on a 52 versus 52-week basis), driven by strong like-for-like sales and bowling increasing its share of the sales mix. Gross margins rose by ten basis points, proportional operating costs fell by 220 basis points (labour 40 basis points; rent 120 basis points; other 60 basis points), offset by centrals (costing 100 basis points, partly due to plc costs). Labour scheduling, rent negotiations, refurbishments and new innovations are all succeeding. The company added two sites net (three openings less the Chelmsford closure) in 2017. We forecast the company opening two sites per annum in 2018E and 2019E. 2018E’s two sites have already been acquired in the second month of the year, which creates upside risk given that expansion drives an average return on investment of circa 30%. Six sites have benefited from the Pins On Strings roll-out (costing £0.2m per site on average). At these sites, games per stop are averaging more than 1,000 versus 259 for the estate overall in 2017 (2016: 186). NPS in sites with Pins On Strings is in excess of 70%, above the company average. Overall, Pins On Strings is delivering in line with management’s expectations (which should be a 40%-plus return on investment); the conversion rate will step up to ten per annum from 2018E. There is also an opportunity to enhance sales through better use of digital marketing via more frequent and personal communication, utilising a CRM database that increased by 25% during 2017. We are holding our 2018E forecasts, which assume like-for-like sales grow by 3.3% versus a 5% average over the past four years, helped by refurbishments, new product and technology. Given the new upside risk from like-for-like sales (soft first-half 2018 comparables), innovation (Pins On Strings roll-out) and additional expansion, we believe the shares on 10% free cash flow and 5% dividend yield, are undervalued.”

HIT and CPL join forces to launch virtual learning environment for sector apprentices: HIT Training and CPL Training Group have joined forces to launch a virtual learning environment, providing on-the-go access for hospitality apprentices. STAR, which stands for Support Training Assessment Resources, is the first of its kind in the apprenticeship training industry and has been built specifically to match the requirements of the Apprenticeship Levy and new apprenticeship standards. The learning platform has three main components – an intranet with access to news feeds and social media, a suite of learning resources and supporting documentation, and an online portfolio where apprentices can record their progress. There is also a messaging system and online forums that can be used as virtual classrooms or for peer-to-peer support. STAR enables different styles of learning and all tasks are mapped to the new apprenticeship standards criteria. Apprentices can upload their course material to their STAR e-portfolio and share with their trainer for feedback and to be used as evidence towards their qualification. Specifically, designed activities have also been developed to help apprentices prepare for their end-point assessment. Catherine Whittaker, virtual learning environment co-ordinator at HIT Training, said: “STAR is a virtual learning platform that is simple to use yet built using complex data to enable real-time analysis of the apprentices’ progress – providing insight on how we can support them further.” CPL Training Group chief executive Daniel Davies added: “The STAR platform is demonstrative of HIT’s mission to provide only the best apprenticeships for clients and their employees, helping to create a skilled, high-calibre hospitality workforce.”

Cineworld agrees deal to operate cinema at new £20m Grimsby leisure scheme featuring seven restaurants: Cineworld has agreed a deal to anchor a new £20m leisure development in Grimsby that will also be home to seven restaurants. The scheme will be built as an extension to the Freshney Place Shopping Centre in the town’s Riverhead area. Cineworld will run the nine-screen cinema with operators being sought for the seven new restaurants at the development, which will be known as Freshney Place Riverhead. The development site comprises a redundant former bus station adjacent to the Freshney Place Shopping Centre, with the proposed development designed to complement and work with the centre. The development team is aiming to start work within the next six months, reports The Business Desk.

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