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Thu 30th Jan 2020 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

McDonald’s to invest £1bn in UK and Ireland business in next three years, plans 60 openings in 2020: McDonald’s is to invest £1bn in its UK and Ireland business during the next three years. The company also plans to open 60 restaurants in Britain this year, following 40 openings in 2019. Speaking on the back of the company’s full-year results, UK and Ireland chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “In 2020 we remain committed to continuing investment in the areas driving our growth – our supply chain, people and restaurant experience – so over the next three years £1bn will be invested to ensure we can continue to focus on what matters most – customers, food, value, service and convenience. In 2020, investment will be in the customer experience as, together with our franchisees, we embark on a new cycle of updating the look and feel of our restaurants as well as in the digital experience. Having opened 40 restaurants in 2019, we plan to open a further 60 in 2020. However, this isn’t against an easy backdrop – rising food prices, labour costs and inflation coupled with wavering consumer confidence have resulted in a tough trading period across the board and we’re mindful of that. McDelivery was an important part of our success in 2019 and this year we’ll partner with a second delivery partner to expand this offer and give customers more choice and convenience. Just Eat will come on board later in 2020 alongside UberEats to help meet the demand that saw McDelivery account for more than 10% of sales in 2019. In 2019 we served more than 1.1 billion customers. They came to us for their McDonald’s favourites but also our improved salads and wraps as well as our coffee, with 14 million more cups sold last year. 2019 was also a year of continual improvement – following the introduction of paper straws across our restaurants this year we made changes to our McFlurry and salads to reduce plastic waste by 485 metric tonnes a year. We remain committed to the 1,270 communities we operate in, the 130,000 people we employ and the responsibility we have as a business environmentally. We’ll continue to do the right thing and challenge ourselves to do even more. While we undoubtedly live in challenging times, I’m confident for the year ahead.”

Industry News:

Mark Wingett to look at what 2020 holds for pub sector in latest Premium column: Propel insights editor Mark Wingett will take a look at what 2020 holds for the pub sector in his latest Propel Premium column, which will be sent to subscribers at 5pm on Friday (31 January). Meanwhile, Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh will give his views on how to succeed in hospitality in the 2020s plus the latest sector whispers from Premium Diary. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from Mark Wingett. Subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has grown to 1,500 businesses. Propel launched its new-look Premium Club this week, where readers can save money by receiving a pair of free tickets to one of four conferences in 2020. Subscribers will be able to choose to use a pair of free tickets to one of the following conferences – The Delivery Conference (Tuesday, 21 April), The Finance and Investment Conference (Thursday, 14 May), The Casual Dining Summit (Monday, 12 October) or The New Concept Conference (Monday, 19 October). The normal cost of two tickets to these events is £490 plus VAT for operators and £690 plus VAT for suppliers. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Propel Multi Club Conference open for bookings, Tim Martin talks to Paul Charity, two free places for operators: The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2020 is open for bookings. The full-day event takes place on Thursday, 5 March at the Millennium Gloucester hotel in London. Tim Martin, chairman and founder of JD Wetherspoon, will talk to Propel managing director Paul Charity about the realities of success in the pub trade and business. Multi-site operators of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets can book up to two free places by emailing Anne Steele at anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Amazon and Deliveroo argue CMA investigation is ‘speculative’: The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) investigation into Amazon’s minority investment in Deliveroo is “speculative” and not grounded in evidence, the two companies have argued. The pair claimed the Phase 1 investigation failed to provide evidence of existing competition between the businesses. Amazon was the lead investor in Deliveroo’s $575m funding round, announced in May. Its stake, thought to be worth about $500m, has since been frozen by the regulator as it conducts an investigation into alleged competition concerns raised by the deal. An initial submission from Amazon and Deliveroo released by the CMA on Wednesday (29 January) said the investigation failed to produce any “credible evidence of existing competition” between the companies and “largely focuses on notional loss of potential future competition”. The document, which had been heavily redacted in certain sections, stated: “But these theories of harm are speculative and not supported by evidence. On the contrary, they are directly undermined by the evidence.” Amazon has operated an online takeaway business in the past – Amazon Restaurants – but shuttered UK operations in 2018 and closed completely last year. The CMA has argued Deliveroo’s cash injection from Amazon could reduce competition by removing the possibility of the e-commerce giant re-entering the market. Both companies disputed the idea Amazon would be hesitant to re-enter the UK market alone following the deal. They also pointed out the possibility for other players, such as US firm DoorDash and Spanish start-up Glovo, to enter the British food delivery space. They also said there was no possibility of Amazon having considerable influence over Deliveroo’s board as the company is only entitled to appoint one director. Amazon and Deliveroo both pushed back on claims their businesses overlap, arguing Deliveroo offered “on-demand” grocery deliveries while Amazon’s offering operates in “one or two-hour scheduled windows”. Last week the CMA announced a review of Dutch firm Takeaway.com’s £6.2bn takeover of British rival Just Eat. Both companies plan to go ahead with the merger but have delayed the joint listing of their shares by a week.

Six Nations tournament set to boost pub sales by £27m: Seven million extra pints of beer will be sold in pubs during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship, boosting the sector by £27m and giving HMRC a windfall of £7.6m from extra beer duty and VAT, according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA). The tournament kicks-off on Saturday (1 February) and ends on Saturday, 14 March, with all 15 games screened by BBC and ITV. A survey by sports pub app MatchPint revealed more than two-fifths (43%) of pub-going sports fans identified the Six Nations as the event they were most looking forward to during the 2019/20 winter period. The tournament ranked higher than Premier League football (33%), Anthony Joshua’s fight against Andy Ruiz (15%) and the Super Bowl (6%). MatchPint also forecast the number of people searching for a pub to watch the tournament will grow 29.5% compared with last year’s competition. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin, a former RFU employee, said: “With matches taking place at favourable times on the weekends, the Six Nations will be a welcome boost to our sector. We expect a boost of seven million pints of beer sold in pubs due to those watching the matches.” MatchPint co-founder Dom Collingwood added: “There are few better sporting occasions than watching the Six Nations in a great pub or bar. It’s one of a handful of events that attracts ‘flirts’ into sport each year, together with international football tournaments and major boxing fights. As such, we see huge spikes in the number of people looking for a great pub nearby.”

Hospitality bosses join forces with rough sleepers and former offenders to raise £20,000 for OAPA: Former rough sleepers, veterans and ex-prison offenders teamed up with hospitality leaders to produce and deliver a fund-raising event for almost 300 people in central London. Cook & Dine was inspired by industry-led charity Only A Pavement Away (OAPA) and supported by chef Tom Kerridge, whose team ran the kitchen staffed by volunteers. Held to raise money and awareness for OAPA, it saw sector chief executives prep, cook and serve a special lunch alongside former rough sleepers and prison offenders who have rebuilt their lives in the hospitality industry. The brainchild of industry veteran Greg Mangham, OAPA has already placed 65 candidates and partnered with more than 44 employer companies. Participants at the event, which raised £20,000 for OAPA, included Greene King chief executive Nick MacKenzie, Carluccio’s chief executive Mark Jones and UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls. Speaking during the event at Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden, Mangham said: “This event is all about raising awareness and money for OAPA so we can help more people get back on their feet through a career in our thriving industry. The idea behind today was to showcase the fact that no matter your background, you can be part of a great team and no matter who you are, in this industry we work together, we cook together and we dine together.”

World’s Biggest Pub Quiz passes 1,000-site milestone: More than 1,000 pubs have signed up to the World’s Biggest Pub Quiz, which will run from 8 to 12 March. Organiser PubAid said it was confident this year’s event would see a record number of pubs participate, with money raised for good causes including charity partner Action Against Hunger. The event has raised £750,000 for charity since 2016. PubAid co-founder Des O’Flanagan said: “We are delighted with the response to the quiz, with more pubs signed up than at this time last year. We expect more pubs to come on board before March and are confident 2020 will be the best ever.” Pubs should sign up before 21 February to receive their free quiz packs, although venues can hold their quiz outside the 8 to 12 March time-frame. To sign up, visit www.pubaid.com/quiz

Coca-Cola urges operators to support Great British Spring Clean: Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) is calling on operators to support Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean 2020. CCEP is asking licensees to host clean-up events between 20 March and 13 April. Publicans can download a free guide from the sustainability section of the CCEP Customer Hub. The first 50 customers to add a clean-up event while clicking on the correct CCEP partner drop down will receive a free CCEP clean-up kit, which includes litter pickers, gloves and high-visibility jackets. Publicans who share their experiences with CCEP after hosting a community clean-up event will be entered into a free prize draw for a chance to win £1,000 for a charity or good cause of their choice. Last year more than half a million people took part in the Great British Spring Clean, cleaning up more than 4,300 tonnes of litter across the country. CCEP hosted 28 clean-ups.

Company News:

Everards reports Ebitda boost as pub revenues rise 3.5%: Leicestershire-based Everards has reported revenue from its 173-pub estate increased 3.5% year-on-year. Group Ebitda was £5.9m for the year ending 30 September 2019, a 1% increase from the prior year reflecting “good trading performance and a reduction in overheads”. Profit before tax and non-recurring items of £2.1m decreased year-on-year, primarily because of an increase in interest charges associated with the group’s refinancing. The sale of the company’s former brewery to The Crown Estate was completed in November 2017, which led to the start of construction work at the 90-acre Everards Meadows development. The first phase incorporating a cycle store, coffee shop and 70-acre public park launched in July 2019. The company said both stores had reported trading levels in “excess of expectations”. In spring 2019, building work began on the brewery, beer hall, shop and offices, with the development set to begin operations this autumn. The company acquired four pubs during the year – two in Nottinghamshire and one each in Staffordshire and Northamptonshire – with two undergoing significant capital investment before reopening and the other two due to open in the 2019/20 financial year. Everards also undertook an active disposal programme of mainly unlicensed properties, generating £8.3m of capital receipts in the year and enabling the company to continue investing in “higher-quality property through developments and pub acquisitions along with further property development at Everards Meadows”. The company said trading in the first three months of the new financial year had been “in line with expectations”, while it would place a “strong focus” on its pub estate, partnership accounts and commercial property portfolio. Managing director Stephen Gould said: “Our underlying performance this year has been strong, which is a reflection of the effort given by the whole team. The pub estate, led by business owners, continues to compete. We remain focused on working with all our business owners through building great relationships complemented by effective capital investment. We also look forward to our next chapter when our new home opens in autumn this year.”

SSP shakes up remuneration policy: UK transport hub foodservice specialist SSP Group has shaken up its remuneration policy. The move comes after more than one-third (33.61%) of shareholders opposed the policy at its annual meeting in February 2019 because of concerns about the bonus plan for Simon Smith, who replaced Kate Swann as group chief executive in July. SSP said it had made the changes following meetings with shareholders representing 64% of its shareholder base. The new policy, revealed in the company’s annual report, revealed the remuneration committee had introduced additional performance measures into Smith’s bonus. All executive directors will be required to defer a minimum of 33% of bonus into the group’s shares for three years. Pension provisions for any new executive director will be aligned with pension levels in the wider workforce. The minimum shareholding requirement for the group chief executive and chief financial officer has increased to 250% of base salary and 200% of base salary respectively, from 200% and 125% respectively. The report showed Swann, who left the company in May last year, earned remuneration of £5.6m for the year ending 30 September 2019, including an annual bonus of £1.5m. Meanwhile, chief financial officer Jonathan Davies earned £2m, as he did the previous year, while Smith, who joined the board in November 2018, earned £1.3m. The report showed Smith’s salary increased from £450,000 to £650,000 in June 2019 to reflect his promotion from chief executive of the UK and Ireland business. Davies was given an 8% pay rise in January last year, taking his salary to £433,000, to reflect his expanded role that includes “group purchasing, group capital projects and property ”.

Buzzworks like-for-likes up in current financial year with turnover set to exceed £20m, three projects in pipeline: Kenny Blair, managing director of Scottish bar and restaurant operator Buzzworks Holdings, has told Propel like-for-likes are up in its current financial year with turnover set to exceed £20m. He said the company had three projects in the pipeline as it continued to add to its 12-strong estate. “Trading has been more positive since the election but overall this financial year is going well and we’re continuing with our plan for steady expansion across Scotland,” he added. Blair spoke as Buzzworks reported turnover rose 14% to £18.4m for the year ending 30 April 2019, compared with £16.2m the previous year. The 12-strong company, which revealed it has two further projects in the pipeline, saw operating profit increase 15% to £731,000, compared with £633,700 the year before. Ebitda was up 37% to £1.62m, from £1.18m the previous year. A total of £3m was spent across the portfolio, including the refurbishment of flagship venue Elliots in Prestwick to turn it into bar and restaurant Vic’s & The Vine and the Ayrshire-based company’s first east coast venue – Scott’s Bar & Restaurant in South Queensferry. Further investment has followed in the east, with the purchase of freehold property The Bridge Inn in Linlithgow. As part of continued investment in training and well-being initiatives, the company hired Carole Lamond as its first people director. Chairman Colin Blair said: “By strategically investing in our venues we are pleased to report a year-on-year rise in turnover and underlying profitability during what has been an exciting period for the business. It’s essential to evolve and look at ways to create new and exciting concepts for our customers while benefiting the community and Scotland’s hospitality industry. Overall, we are reflecting on an exciting year for Buzzworks and look forward to unveiling our new venue in Linlithgow.”

Honest Burgers strengthens London estate with St Paul’s site: Active Partners-backed Honest Burgers is to strengthen its central London estate after securing a site in St Paul’s. The company, which was founded by Tom Barton and Philip Eeles, is to take over the former Ernest Jones site in Paternoster Square for an opening this year. The company recently secured the Simurgh restaurant in Garrick Street for what will be the brand’s 38th site. The company is believed to be in advanced talks on a further central London site. Honest Burgers opened a venue at the former Gow’s restaurant in Old Broad Street in November following launches in Manchester, Liverpool, London Bridge and Cardiff in 2019. The Sunday Times reported in November that Honest Burgers had held meetings with potential investors including private equity firm TriSpan to fund its next stage of expansion. Sales at Honest rose 38% to £31m in the year to the end of January 2019, while pre-tax profits jumped 22% to £873,266. Honest sold a 50% stake to Soho House and Leon investor Active Private Equity in 2015 for £7m.

France-based Thai brand Pitaya secures debut UK site: Pitaya, the fast-growing Thai fast casual brand based in France, has secured its debut UK site. The venue in London’s Strand will be operated by Mountever Restaurants, a £40m-turnover, multi-brand retail and franchise group. It has committed to an area development franchise agreement, which was brokered by franchise consultancy Seeds Consulting. The restaurant is set to open at the former Egg’cellent site in March. The off-market property deal with Capital & Counties has been brokered by Seeds Consulting and KSA Property. It’s understood Pitaya paid no premium for the A3 site, which measures 1,985 square feet across two floors. Celebrity chef and Masterchef France finalist Nathalie Nguyen has created Pitaya’s recipes, which are inspired by Bangkok street food. Pitaya operates 12 company-owned sites in Bordeaux and 44 franchise stores in France and Spain. The brand expects to open at least 35 sites in 2020 in France alone. The brand recently signed a 70-unit franchise agreement for Benelux with a restaurant-focused private equity fund. Seeds Consulting director Matteo Frigeri said: “We have seen an opportunity for a Thai fast casual brand in the UK and selected Pitaya for this market where Thai food is either available in a full-service setting or from unbranded independent operators. Pitaya is poised to grow into a national player in the UK too and the franchise partnership with Mountever Restaurants is only the first step of this expansion. We are looking for more qualified restaurant operators to join the franchise as regional franchisees throughout the UK.”

Midlands-based restaurant group goes into administration: Morgan Food Group, which owns a group of restaurants in the Midlands, has gone into administration. The company, which is behind the three-strong Harpers British Classics brand and Italian restaurant Napoli at the Intu Merry Hill shopping centre, has appointed MB Insolvency, of Droitwich, as administrator, reports The Business Desk. Morgan Food Group also ran Stonebaked Pizza Co, which opened at Highcross shopping centre in Leicester five years ago but has closed with immediate effect. The other restaurants are understood to still be trading. In its latest accounts, Morgan Food Group said it was working towards a franchise model for its brands but had taken a £100,000 lease surrender hit after closing one of its sites after it was “significantly affecting” profits. The accounts for the 18 months to 23 September 2018 show Morgan Food Group posted a loss of £330,000 after turning a profit of almost £20,000 for the 12 months to 26 March. The company blamed “tough market conditions” for the performance.

Glee Club reports 4.1% rise in like-for-like sales, eyes sixth site as group approaches ‘right size’: Comic Enterprises, which operates Glee Club live entertainment venues and is owned by founder Mark Tughan, has announced group sales of £4.15m for 2019, with like-for-like sales at its mature sites, excluding Glasgow, up 4.1% at £3.8m. Tughan said the company hoped to open a sixth site, this year, while it had been the “wrong size for a few years” as it fought a legal battle for its name against 20th Century Fox. Tughan said: “It has been another strong year for the entertainment sector. Our core ‘weekend mixed-bill comedy’, which is 75% of sales, reported a like-for-like increase of 8.6% in 2019. We suffered a dip in sales for the rest of the business – touring comedy, live music and other live events – but a tight focus on margin enabled us to keep contributions from these mainly midweek events to within 1.4% of last year, at £317,000, and making up 19% of overall gross profit. Pleasingly, we now have a site returning 26% site-level Ebitda, a second on 23%, with a third on target to reach 20% this year. Our joint-venture site in Oxford is relatively immaterial to the group but still trades well, profitably and up on last year. Our fifth site, Glasgow, which opened partway through 2019, is off to a satisfactory start, had a great Christmas, appears to be growing rapidly, and turned profitable in December and remained so in January. Site-level like-for-like Ebitda rose 33.4% to £849,947. Most pleasingly, spend per head rose across the board – tickets, drinks and food – and we have had an excellent Christmas across the whole group, with like-for-likes up 11% in this important period. Group like-for-like Ebitda – excluding Glasgow but after head office costs – was £385,783, which is satisfactory but with room to rise significantly as operational gearing and smaller, more marginal head office cost increases become the norm as new sites are added. We were the wrong size for a few years as we fought a legal battle for our name against 20th Century Fox. However, we hope to open a sixth venue this year and the business appears to be solidly on track to reach our goal of becoming the scalable market leader in multi-site, mid-sized comedy, music and experiential live events.”

The Beautiful Pubs Collective appoints operations manager for food: The Beautiful Pubs Collective, the Leicestershire-based independent operator led by Sam Hagger, has appointed Marcin Blaszczyk as operations manager – food as the company prepares for another year of innovation-led growth. Blaszczyk, formerly regional food operations manager for Bill’s Restaurants in London, has vast experience having led teams in gastro-pubs, the Mandarin Oriental and the Royal Albert Hall. Blaszczyk will join Rosalie Hagger, formerly of Peach Pubs, who is operations manager – people and experiences, in supporting Sam Hagger and the pub teams in continuing to grow the business organically without bank or third-party finance. The decision to strengthen the operations team was made following a bumper year for the group, which was founded by father and son, Stephen and Sam Hagger, in 2008.

Bonnie Gull to shut Soho seafood shack as Fitzrovia site begins major refit: British seaside restaurant concept Bonnie Gull is to close its seafood shack in Soho on Friday (31 January), although its other central London site, in Fitzrovia, is undergoing a major refurbishment, Propel has learned. The Soho site launched in Bateman Street in December 2016. Alex Hunter and Danny Clancy founded Bonnie Gull in 2011 as a pop-up in Hackney, opening the Fitzrovia venue two years later. A spokeswoman said: “After much deliberation we have made the difficult decision to close our beloved Soho restaurant.” Regarding the Fitzrovia site, she added: “After almost eight years and 200,000 customers through its doors, we’ve decided to give Bonnie Gull Fitzrovia a bit of a facelift. In fact, it’s a fairly major facelift involving a new kitchen and restaurant reconfiguration. To do this, we closed the restaurant on Monday (27 January) to next Monday (3 February) as we try to cram a six-week refit into six days (and nights)!” In April, Hunter launched The Sea, The Sea, a fishmonger and delicatessen by day and seafood and champagne bar by night, in Pavilion Road, Chelsea. The venue, named after the Iris Murdoch novel, also hosts masterclasses on seafood-related activities such as oyster shucking, curing and fish filleting. Hunter also launched grab-and-go concept Salt ‘n’ Sauce in Oxford in March 2018, although the site has since closed.

Vagabond opens City site for eighth outlet: Imbiba-backed wine bar business Vagabond has opened a site in the City of London. The Stephen Finch-led business has converted a former Santander bank branch in Gracechurch Street for its eighth site. The venue offers 160 varieties of wine and ten of self-pour craft beer, while there is also a private tasting room. Founded by Finch in 2010 as a relaxed bar with informal wine tasting, Vagabond is looking to expand quickly during the next 18 months. In August, the company secured £3.5m of growth capital investment from Imbiba. Subsequently Karen Forrester, former chief executive of TGI Friday’s, became chairman.

Innis & Gunn hits £3m crowdfunding target towards brewery: Scottish brewer and retailer Innis & Gunn has hit its £3m target on crowdfunding platform Seedrs towards its planned brewery in Edinburgh. The campaign, under the banner This Is Beer Money, is offering 1.96% equity in return for the investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of almost £150m. So far, 2,127 investors have pledged £3,085,684 with the campaign closing on Wednesday, 5 February. The brewery, which will be the first large-scale brewery in Edinburgh for more than 150 years, will be based at Heriot-Watt University’s Research Park. The company is aiming for the brewery to become operational in early 2021. Dougal Gunn Sharp, founder and master brewer at Innis & Gunn, said: “Since Innis & Gunn was founded in 2003 our ultimate goal has always been to have our own brewery on our home turf, a brewing focal point for the city. We want to put Edinburgh back on the international brewing map and with this investment secured we’re going to be able to do just that. We’ve got ambitious growth plans and the brewery is going to be instrumental in reaching our long-term potential. With this key step in place, we’re looking forward to a bright future.” Innis & Gunn raised £2.37m on Crowdcube from more than 1,900 investors in late 2016. In the three years since, Innis & Gunn has increased turnover to more than £25m. The brand also relaunched its pubs under the Taprooms banner this year, with takings up 30%. The concept will be rolled out, with two new sites a year for the next three years.

Robinsons to reopen historic Stockport pub: Robinsons Brewery is to reopen the Bulls Head in Stockport, Greater Manchester, in September following a £400,000 refurbishment. The grade II-listed pub in Market Place dates to 1731 but has been closed since November 2011. Formerly one of Stockport’s top music venues, the Bulls Head is opposite the renovated Market Hall and was the centre of local unrest that led to the Peterloo massacre. It is the only pub to feature on Stockport’s blue plaque trail. The pub can seat 84 covers inside and 36 outside, with food to play a big part in the new offer. There are also plans to make the pub fully accessible by relocating the toilets and creating more user-friendly facilities. William Robinson, managing director of Robinsons’ pub division, said: “Stockport Market Place is the historic heart of our town and somewhere we are proud to help preserve. The old town of Stockport is once again bustling and now’s the right time to reopen the Bulls Head.” Family-run Robinsons was founded in Stockport in 1838 and owns circa 260 pubs, inns and hotels in the north west. 

Escape Hunt secures Norwich shopping centre site: Escape room company Escape Hunt has secured a site at Intu Chapelfield in Norwich. It will be the first escape room operator to launch at an Intu shopping centre and is part of Intu’s plans to create “compelling day-out destinations”, with crazy golf courses, climbing walls and new food brands opening across its portfolio. There are almost 50 Escape Hunt sites spanning 27 countries, including nine in the UK. Escape Hunt chief executive Richard Harpham said: “We are confident visitors to the centre will love stepping into new worlds and playing our immersive adventures.” Intu regional managing director Kate Grant added: “Compelling and innovative leisure attractions such as Escape Hunt are drawing in more visitors from far and wide, who are then staying longer to make the most of all the other great brands in our centres. This is the first escape room concept in our portfolio and the huge potential of this kind of attraction to flourish at Intu centres means we’re keen to explore other opportunities.”

KFC expands Beyond Fried Chicken trial: KFC is expanding its trial of plant-based menu item Beyond Fried Chicken to two more markets. The item, produced by plant-based food manufacturer Beyond Meat, will be made available at stores in Nashville and Charlotte from Monday, 3 February to Sunday, 23 February while supplies last. The trial was launched in Atlanta in the summer, with the product selling out in less than five hours. The success led KFC and Beyond Meat to tweak the recipe to deliver on the “taste and texture of whole-muscle chicken”. KFC US chief marketing officer Andrea Zahumensky said: “The iconic flavour of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated despite many imitations – until now.” Beyond Meat founder and chief executive Ethan Brown added: “The response in Atlanta continues to underscore the growing consumer demand for high-quality, plant-based meat.” Beyond Fried Chicken is served with dipping sauce and tossed in one of three sauce options – honey barbecue, buffalo or Nashville hot.

I am Doner reports more than 1,000 music requests in first month of Startle partnership: I am Doner, the Think Hospitality Ventures-backed better kebab brand, has reported receiving more than 1,000 music requests in the first month of its partnership with interactive music provider Startle. I am Doner has introduced the touchscreen jukebox concept to its Leeds city centre restaurant. The requests have covered about 400 different artists, with 41% of all requests coming on Fridays and Saturdays. I am Doner team members are also able to choose their own tracks, allowing them more control over the venue’s atmosphere. Think Hospitality chief executive James Hacon said: “I am Doner isn’t your typical kebab shop. Our focus is not only on bringing customers great food but also providing them with a great experience. We initially enlisted Startle because music is a big part of our business and we wanted to find a solution that matched our ambitions as a brand. We look forward to developing our partnership in the coming months.” Startle said it would roll-out its touchscreen jukebox technology to more operator partners in the coming months.

Brothers reports 37% like-for-like rise in cider sales driven by festivals: Cider maker Brothers Drinks Co has reported a more than 37% increase in like-for-like sales across 93 UK festivals and markets in 2019. Brothers, which produces six fruit ciders as well as Mallets Original and Dark Fruit, saw sales of Mallets at festivals increase 225% during 2019, driven by its first year as the official cider of Glastonbury. Like-for-like sales of Brothers’ toffee apple cider rose 44% in October, driven by Halloween and a strong showing at big-ticket events such as Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. The autumn and winter markets alone produced a 46% boost in overall volume for Brothers and Mallets. Senior marketing manager Nicola Randall said: “With £200m spent on alcohol by summer festival-goers every year, 51% trying new drinks and 37% saying they are likely to purchase those new drinks afterwards, events are a huge opportunity for Brothers and Mallets cider that we’ll continue to pursue.” Last week Brothers Drinks Co was awarded official accreditation by The Vegan Society.

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