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Wed 20th Jan 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

Kate Nicholls – governments need to provide clear exit strategy from economic restrictions linked to vaccination of most vulnerable: UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has said governments need to provide a clear exit strategy from economic restrictions linked to vaccination of the most vulnerable. It comes as Scotland's lockdown was extended until at least the middle of February by Nicola Sturgeon, who said everyone on the priority list should be vaccinated by early May. Extending the restrictions, the first minister said despite covid-19 case numbers having “stabilised and even declined”, any relaxation of the rules while infection rates remain high could “quickly send the situation into reverse”. Schools, which were meant to emerge from lockdown at the start of next month, will also remain closed along with nurseries to all those apart from vulnerable children and those of key workers until mid-February. Sturgeon said she hoped the “strictest form of lockdown” will not last for “too much longer”, but admitted some measures such as face coverings, social distancing and possibly travel limitations “are likely to be necessary for some time”. Appealing to Scots to remain “cautious” despite the number of new coronavirus cases declining, she said: “We need to see these trends continue, to be more certain this phase of the epidemic is now on a downward trajectory.” On vaccines, Sturgeon said the government was on track to be giving 400,000 people jabs a week by the end of February. By the start of March, she said she hopes everyone over the age of 65 will have had their first dose – with everyone on the priority list inoculated by early May.

Industry News:

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Lawson – don’t blow all the support you have already put in by actually thinking the job is done: Jonathan Lawson, chief executive of Channel Islands and West Country-based brewer and retailer Liberation Group, has warned the government not to “blow all the support you have already put in by actually thinking the job is done”. Talking on Propel’s Lessons & Learning for Lockdown Three video, Lawson said the Budget on 3 March will be when “we will really understand how much (chancellor) Rishi (Sunak) really understands what businesses need”. He said: “My key concern rather than about any specific elements of support, is whether the government really understands business and whether it really understands hospitality, how it works and what it actually needs. What I mean by that is it has done different things, at different stages, and I just don’t mean support, but also around communication or lack of it, or timing of it, that really makes you scratch your head. If you really understood how business works and how it needs information in a timely fashion, even if it’s bad news, that’s fine, I can deal with that, but then there is the amount of second guessing you have to do because you know what you will get is lastminute.com and leaked, and what you get is that lack of understanding how business works. It has even wasted money at times on support that had it actually asked business about we would have said may not work. The Job Support Scheme that kind of got pushed back and then the furlough scheme was brought back, was not a well-thought through piece of work, with a real lack of business and how it operates, and how we employ people and lead people. Matt Hancock has got a phrase that he uses in his briefings, ‘don’t blow it now’. Well I would say the same to the government, don’t blow all the support you have already put in by actually thinking the job is done. Anybody in business will tell you, particularly start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, the next six months are going to be really hard as we reopen. Rishi needs to really understand we need his help and support to get back up and running so we don’t have businesses that limp over the line, reopen and then can’t keep going.” The full interview with Lawson will be released on Wednesday (20 January) at 9am.

Vaccinated people should be allowed to eat in restaurants and go to cinema, says German minister: German foreign minister Heiko Maas has argued vaccinated people should be allowed to eat in restaurants and go to the cinema. Maas said lockdown restrictions must be eased for those who had been inoculated because they no longer pose a threat to each other. He told Bild am Sonntag: “Vaccinated people should be able to exercise their basic rights again. If there are only vaccinated people in a restaurant or a cinema, they can no longer endanger each other. Yes, it will lead to inequalities in a transitional period, but as long as there is an objective reason, it is constitutionally justifiable.” He added those who refuse the vaccine should not be able to go to restaurants or the cinema. Maas added: “It has not yet been conclusively clarified to what extent vaccinated people can infect others. What is clear, however, is a vaccinated person no longer takes a ventilator away from anyone. This removes at least one central reason for restricting fundamental rights.” However, other German cabinet members have rejected Maas’ notion and labelled it divisive. 

New South Wales residents to be given vouchers to spend in bars and restaurants: Every resident in New South Wales can get their hands on four $25 vouchers to use at bars, restaurants and a string of other venues as part of a government handout to kickstart the economy in the wake of covid-19. The Dine and Discover initiative will offer the vouchers to everyone in New South Wales aged 18 and above with a trial run to start within weeks. By March the programme is expected to be rolled out across the entire state and will run until 30 June. Those keen to take advantage of the free $100 will need to have a My Service NSW account and all participating businesses will need to be registered as covid-safe and have a covid safety plan in place. The vouchers are on offer for hospitality venues, arts and cultural venues, wildlife parks, recreational activities and even zoos. They'll be divided into two different categories with two $25 vouchers going towards eating in restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and clubs from Monday to Thursday. The other two vouchers will be used for entertainment purposes such as music and arts venues. The free cash will not be accepted on public holidays or for alcohol, accommodation, gambling, retail or tobacco. 

Customers following heart and not wallet when choosing hospitality venues: Customers have dramatically changed their reasons for visiting hospitality venues and are no longer influenced by price, but are, instead, seeking out places they know and trust, according to a study by guest feedback service Feed It Back and hospitality data consultancy DataHawks. Only 0.1% of people chose their Christmas celebration venue based on price, showing customers’ primary reasons for deciding on places to visit are not being shaped by their finances. More than a third (33.4%) of customers revealed loyalty from previous visits was the core reason they selected venues. Customer responses suggest a boost in a new post-experiential trend in hospitality where, rather than seek out exciting new experiential venues, consumers are drawn towards their favourite places. Compared with data from the same time last year, customers looking for something different went from 19% to just 0.7%. Location also became important to customers (20.2%). A total of 28% of customers are looking out for good quality food and 18% believe atmosphere will be a crucial factor when deciding where to go, followed closely by good service (17%). Having strong covid-safety measures being in place (11%) follows these other elements. Interest in well-being trends such as vegan options (2%), good vegetarian options (4%), healthy menu choices (4%) and low and no alcoholic drinks ranges (2%) has dwindled and become less important of late. DataHawks founder Victoria Searl said: “Only 8% of people mentioned pricing or promos so invest the spend you would have spent on discounts, offers and early bird specials into targeting and retargeting your previously happy customers.” Feed It Back chief executive Carlo Platia added: “Customer loyalty towards favourite venues has been paramount to survival, but it is also beginning to shape a new customer trend for seeking out post-experiential venues. 2020 was a year of survival within the hospitality industry, but 2021 will be the year where the sector paid much closer attention to the customer in order to attain repeat business.”

Low and no-alcohol awareness increases significantly but operators need to improve options: The low and no-alcohol categories have hit the mainstream with consumer awareness increasing significantly over the past 12 months – but operators need to improve their options, according to new research from KAM Media. Its “Low and No 2021” report, carried out in partnership with Peroni Libera 0.0%, showed 75% of UK adults have heard of non-alcoholic beer as a category – up from 66% last year. Despite most hospitality venues being closed for much of the year, the research revealed one-in-four visits to pubs last year did not involve alcohol. The figure is one-in-three for restaurants. Only 37% of customers rated the current range of low and no options in pubs as “good or very good”. The figure was 39% for restaurants. Both figures are down on last year. Meanwhile, almost one-in-three adults said they intend to cut down their alcohol consumption in 2021. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses said: “We are still seeing similar levels of desire from consumers to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume as we did in 2019, suggesting as drinkers, we are increasingly becoming aware of the need to drink responsibly and that we understand the benefits associated with moderation. This is especially higher for those in the 18 to 34 age bracket. We know from previous research more than one-in-two consumers find it difficult to see which cans and bottles behind the bar are low and non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks. Improving the visibility and communication of the ‘low and no’ range available is key, especially with so many new and unfamiliar brands entering the category.”
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Hammerson collects just 41% of latest quarterly rent: Landlord Hammerson has said it collected just 41% of the latest quarterly rent from its tenants as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions took a further toll on the business. The company, which owns Birmingham’s Bullring and London’s Brent Cross, said of the £61.5m rent due by the end of 2020, only £19.8m was collected. About £12.9m has been deferred or not yet due, with £28.8m outstanding. The group, which also owns the Bicester Village outlet complex, said more than half of its shopping “villages” remain shut. It said: “Performance has been robust during periods when ‘villages’ have been open and the virtual shopping service has expanded strongly during periods of closure.”

MGM Resorts abandons takeover of Ladbrokes and Coral owner: US casino giant MGM Resorts has abandoned a takeover attempt for Ladbrokes and Coral owner Entain after its earlier proposal was spurned. MGM said it will not raise its $11bn (£8.1bn) offer of two weeks ago, which Entain had rebuffed as “significantly” undervaluing the company. Following Entain's rejection, shares in the UK-listed company tumbled. After MGM's announcement on Tuesday (19 January) it was walking away from a takeover, Entain shares fell another 20%. FTSE 100-listed Entain. which renamed itself from GVC Holdings last month, describes itself as “one of the world's largest sports betting and gaming groups operating in the online and retail sector”. Along with Ladbrokes, it also owns online sports betting and gambling sites such as Bwin, Partypoker, Coral, Eurobet, Gala and Foxy Bingo. The failed bid was the latest attempt by a casino operator to move into the online gambling business. MGM Resorts, which runs the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, was seeking to emulate rival Caesars Entertainment, which agreed to buy UK-based William Hill for $3.7bn (£2.9bn) in September last year.

French restaurant ONA is first vegan site in country to win Michelin star: French restaurant ONA has become the first vegan site in the country to be awarded a Michelin star despite struggling to even open five years ago. ONA – which stands for Origine Non Animale – is in the city of Ares, near Bordeaux, south west France. It was founded by Claire Vallee in 2016 thanks to crowdfunding from supporters and a loan from a green bank. According to The Guardian, traditional French banks refused to give the young chef support when she was looking for a loan to get started. Vallee told AFP: “They said the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was too uncertain.” And the chosen location for her restaurant in the Arcachon basin on the Atlantic coast was also not considered promising enough. Vallee went on to secure financing through crowdfunding, without the need for collateral, and through Le Nef, a bank that specialises in lending to projects it considers ethical. On hearing ONA had won the Michelin star, Vallee said: “It felt like I got hit by a train.” In addition to the star, Vallee also won a green star, which Michelin introduced last year to reward establishments with a strong record for ethical practices. Before being forced to close during the pandemic, ONA offered seven dishes on its gourmet menu including Vallee’s favourite combinations of pine, boletus mushroom and sake, or celery, tonka and amber ale.

Hotel owned by Global Brands founder to be used as vaccination centre: The Casa Hotel in Chesterfield, which is owned by Global Brands founder Steve Perez, is to be used as a centre for the covid-19 vaccine. From Monday, 1 February until the end of June, part of the hotel will be used by healthcare provider PTC Health. Perez said: “It’s a great example of hospitality business working with a local company and NHS to serve the community. We are really excited to be part of this initiative and do our bit! We are closed but our fantastic team are holding their hands up to help out in any way they can. I am immensely proud to be working in such a brilliant industry!” Perez first offered use of the hotel, which he built in 2011, as a vaccination centre earlier this month. 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a company that is aiming to redefine the evolution of food brands by providing a physical platform for creation and a virtual platform for scale. It is an incubator that will offer space for independent restaurant brands to excel alongside creating and assisting in the creation of new brands. To support the growth plan it is looking for a hands-on account manager, based in London or the south east. The position is paying up to £35,000 plus commission and would suit an experienced sales or account manager with two years’ experience, ideally within the hospitality industry. Anyone interested can send their CV to Hayley@corecruitment.com 
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

London-based Vietnamese street food concept Hop acquired by new vehicle: London-based Vietnamese street food concept Hop has been acquired by a new vehicle set up by founder Paul Hopper, after going through a sales process, Propel has learned. Hopper, which launched the business in 2015, set up Cau Lau Holdings to oversee the acquisition, although as yet it is unclear how many of the group’s five sites will transfer to the new vehicle. Hopper told Propel: “Due to the ongoing impact of the covid-19 pandemic we appointed advisors in late 2020 to explore all options for the brand. It became clear that unlike many other great brands in our sector, a company voluntary arrangement was not an option due to the inflexible stance on rent concessions taken by several of Hop’s landlords. As a result, FRP Advisory led a robust and independent accelerated mergers and acquisitions process in December/January and several bids for the business and/or assets were received. Ultimately an offer submitted by Cau Lau Holdings was successful. All existing Hop employees will be retained as part of the transaction. I’m really pleased to have agreed a way forward for the Hop brand and our incredible team. It was a very painful period for the company but it’s important we now look to the future and I look forward to seeing Hop thrive again soon.” The company operated sites in Broadgate, the Cheesegrater, Coleman Street, Cullum Street and London Wall.

Red Oak Taverns eyes further opportunities as it acquires trio of Reclamation Inns pubs: Red Oak Taverns, the national pub operator founded by Aaron Brown and Mark Grunnell in 2011, has acquired three pubs from Reclamation Inns for an undisclosed sum – and is eyeing further opportunities. The pubs – The Great Western, Bewdley; The Railway in Alsager, Crewe; and The Black Boy, Bridgnorth – will be added to the pub company’s current portfolio of 177 pubs. Grunnell said: “These sites are a perfect match for our business and are fantastic community pubs. We are looking forward to welcoming the tenant partners and their established businesses to our pub company in readiness for when we all reopen. We want to look beyond these difficult times and continue to invest in and grow our business. We are in a financially stable position and although the pandemic has slowed down our investment plans we are focused on looking for more pub acquisition opportunities now and in the future.” Andy Vaughan, of Reclamation Inns, added: “Our three cherished pubs have found the ideal home with the Red Oak team and the challenge of completing this deal through the pandemic is a testament to the resilience and patience of all involved.” Red Oak Taverns was advised on the acquisition by James A Baker while Matt Phillips, of Matthew Phillips Surveyors, acted for Reclamation Inns.

Azzurri Group further expands Coco di Mama/Zizzi link-up: Azzurri Group, the TowerBrook Capital-backed business, has added another 12 Zizzi sites from which it is offering its Coco di Mama concept for delivery. Propel revealed in November the Italian food-to-go brand was to trial delivery in new locations prepared through its sister-brand’s kitchens, starting in London suburbs. It began the trial in Bromley, Sutton and Kingston, and then extended that to the Zizzi sites in Beckenham, Greenwich and Chiswick. Propel now understands the Jim Attwood-led Coco di Mama brand has extended its reach further inside London and outside the M25. It is now available for delivery out of Zizzi sites in locations including Canterbury, Chislehurst, Guildford, Farnham, Staines and Windsor. New locations in the capital include sites in Earl’s Court and Hampton Court. 

Taco Bell UK & Europe appoints Monica Pool as new marketing director: Mexican restaurant brand Taco Bell, which operates more than 50 sites in the UK, has appointed Monica Pool as its new marketing director for the UK and Europe, Propel has learned. Pool joins the company after five years with sister brand KFC UK & Ireland, where she spent more than three years as marketing director and one and a half as director of people transformation. She replaces Katie Taylor, who becomes the brand’s marketing director – digital innovation and growth layers. Taco Bell, which is led by Gino Cascani in the UK and Europe, opened its first digital-only restaurant in the UK last month in Wembley. It also marked the brand’s 50th opening in the UK. It has since opened a further three sites here, and has plans to double its presence in Wales and on Merseyside over the coming months. There are more than 7,500 Taco Bell sites across the globe with Glen Bell having opened the first in Downey, California, in 1962.

Dishoom launches Cambridge delivery kitchen: Indian restaurant Dishoom has launched a delivery kitchen service in Cambridge – its second outside London. The kitchen serves Dishoom favourites that will be delivered between noon and 10.30pm in a variety of postcodes including Chesterton, Newnham and Trumpington. The menu has been devised so dishes that travel well are included, such as Keema Pau, Chicken Ruby and House Black Daal. Vegetarians can enjoy Pau Bhaji, Mattar Paneer, Jackfruit Biryani and more while vegans can sample such meals as samosas, bowls of Chole, greens and Basmati Kheer pudding. Other main dishes include Pepper Lamb Curry – lamb with black pepper, green chilli, garlic and ginger, cooked with red and yellow capsicums in masala sauce. Sodas feature Limca and Thums Up plus Mango Lassi. For each meal served, Dishoom donates a meal to a child in poverty and has, since 2015, donated more than nine million meals to charities Magic Breakfast and Akshaya Patra. The company has retained all jobs since the start of the pandemic and even created an additional 50 roles with its six delivery kitchens in London and one in Brighton.

Golf club concept Pitch plans further expansion: Golf club Pitch is set for further expansion in the capital after lining up a second site in London, Propel has learned. The concept, which is the brainchild of friends and golf professionals Elliot Godfrey and Chris Ingham, launched in London’s Bishopsgate more than four years ago, complete with state-of-the-art golf technology. The business said the opening of its second site later this summer will form the first phase of a rapid expansion across London, with a view to opening multiple sites over the next two years across the capital. Propel understands the business is also in talks to take the concept overseas, with a launch in Europe in the pipeline. The company has retained property advisor Stonebrook London to aid its expansion across London. The original Pitch at 60-64 Bishopsgate is set over two floors with a split-level clubhouse on the ground floor. It features eight private golf bays, a clubhouse with a bar, changing rooms and a food menu from several local partners. Players have the choice of playing more than 60 of the world’s most popular golf courses, including classic venues such as Wentworth and Royal Troon. The company said the concept has a “very inclusive feel” and its main aim across the London sites is to “grow the game and make top facilities available to a wider audience than is traditional in golf”. Godfrey told Propel: “Both Chris and I are very excited to be taking this next step in our journey and can’t wait to continue modernising the perception of golf within central London.”

Deliveroo adds Simon Wolfson to board: Deliveroo has appointed the chief executive of Next, Simon Wolfson, to its board as a non-executive director. Lord Wolfson has been chief executive of Next since 2001, having been appointed to its board of directors in 1997. Wolfson's arrival at Deliveroo comes after the appointment of Claudia Arney as the company’s first chair in November. Deliveroo has just completed a new Series H funding round of more than $180m from existing investors, valuing the business at more than $7bn. Deliveroo is now working with 140,000 restaurants and 110,000 riders worldwide in more than 800 towns and cities, while improving margins, having demonstrated profitability in 2020. This year, the company is focusing on areas including expanding its Editions delivery-only kitchens globally; increasing choice and selection for consumers by working with more restaurants and grocery stores; increasing affordability for customers by extending its Plus subscription programme; investing in new tools to help restaurants grow their business; and continuing to provide riders with the flexible work they value. Deliveroo will also continue to deliver thousands of free meals to NHS workers. Deliveroo chief executive Will Shu said: “Simon will bring great knowledge and insight to the company and help us in our mission to become the definitive food company. We are looking forward to working with him as we continue to innovate, developing new tech tools to support restaurants, to provide riders with more work and to extend choice for customers, bringing them the food they love from more restaurants than ever before.”

‘World’s smallest gin bar’ concept to open third site, in Sunderland: The Davis family, owner of “the world’s smallest gin bar” concept Tin of Sardines, has revealed plans to open its third venue, in Sunderland. The company has agreed a ten-year lease with Sunderland City Council for the former Roker Toilet Block in Pier View, and is set to invest more than £60,000 into the refurbishment of the site. Founded by father and son business partners Lord Trevor and Ben Davis, Tin of Sardines first opened in Durham’s historic Elvet Bridge in 2017, with the venue holding just 16 people and stocking more than 200 varieties of gin. There is also a similar venue on the south coast in Poole. Ben Davis said: “Tin of Sardines is built on providing a quaint, relaxed atmosphere, where people can meet, eat and drink away from the hustle and bustle. Identifying locations that nurture such an environment has been one of the key factors in our success and for my money – with its breathtaking views of the promenade and idyllic location – there aren’t many sites in the north east that could come close to this aesthetically.” Cllr Rebecca Atkinson, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for dynamic city, added: “The council and its partners have invested millions of pounds in the seafront over recent years and it’s great to see this bearing fruit with the attraction of success stories such as Tin of Sardines.”

Bournemouth-based vegan restaurateur to launch plant-based deli: Bournemouth-based vegan restaurateur Aaron Bryans is adding to his portfolio with the launch of a plant-based deli. Bryans will open Plant Hustler Deli in Christchurch Road later this month offering a range of plant-based brands alongside his own culinary creations. It will comprise of three sections – an on-site butchers selling plant-based meat, seafood and cheese; a designated food-to-go area specialising in ready-made hot and cold food, antipastos and sandwich fillers; and a dark kitchen, trialling a rotating selection of street food bites such as plant-based kebabs, burritos and Asian dishes. Bryans is also behind Plant Hustler, a vegan fast food outlet, and Hoke Poke, the UK’s first plant-based pokè bowl bar, in the Dorset town, but wants to “bring more awareness to plant-based foods on a high street level”. Plant Hustler Deli is also in the infancy stages of developing its own mock eggs and plant-based meat along with pickle and chutney. Plant Hustler Deli is also set to launch an e-commerce platform next month, specialising in vegan hampers available for nationwide delivery. 

Online sales offset store closures at Hotel Chocolat: Hotel Chocolat reported a jump in revenue as a rise in online sales helped to offset the impact of store closures due to covid-19 lockdowns. In an update for the 13-week and 26-week periods ended 27 December 2020, the company said total group revenue for the 13-week period was up 19% versus the previous year. For the 26-week period, revenue rose 11%. In the UK, online growth more than offset the impact of temporary store closures due to covid restrictions, it said. In the US, meanwhile, the brand was able “to adapt rapidly and pivot the multichannel business model”, delivering year-on-year growth of 19% for the 13-week period and 8% for the 26-week period. Hotel Chocolat said in Japan, where it opened a further 12 outlets during the half year, the joint venture is now operating from 18 locations, with a substantially increased e-commerce database. Trading since December continues to be in line with management’s expectations, it said, despite materially higher investments in the acceleration of its digital and international growth plan, and ongoing pandemic-related costs. Co-founder and chief executive officer Angus Thirlwell said: “We accelerated several of our digital growth initiatives over the past year and can clearly see the huge potential ahead. While there is still further near-term pandemic-related uncertainty, and ongoing increased costs in reacting to it, I am increasingly confident in the medium-term we can deliver significant further growth in the UK, US and Japan.”

Restaurateurs hit £300,000 crowdfunding target to expand virtual wine cellar service: Restaurateurs Ian Campbell and Will Palmer have hit their £300,000 fund-raising target for their London-based virtual wine cellar, Drop, as they look to expand its service nationwide. Campbell and Palmer, who are behind 10 Cases wine bar and bistro and Parsons seafood restaurant in Covent Garden, launched Drop in 2016. Drop has seen its customer base double and sales grow 145% during the covid-19 pandemic, and was aiming to raise £300,000 on Seedrs as it looks to increase its audience. Drop is offering 3.99% equity in return for the investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £7.2m. So far it has £302,000 from 270 investors and is “overfunding” with 25 days remaining. The key goal will be to scale the business to a national footprint of more than 100 distribution points. Projects to support this include expansion to 85 franchise locations, a logistics hub, additional technology development and artificial intelligence interpretation of customer needs. Palmer said: “More than 25% of wine drinkers purchase online in a market worth more than £1bn, yet nationwide on demand delivery options are almost non-existent. Given the current climate now is the perfect time for Drop to ramp up.”

Former Dr Oetker UK MD becomes Barrel and Stone chairman: Peter Franks, former managing director of Dr Oetker UK, has been appointed as chairman of Barrel and Stone, the plug-in, high-quality pizza solution, as the company seeks to expand into new markets with its branded foodservice model. Franks, who built the Dr Oetker pizza business in the UK over 17 years, said he is keen to drive Barrel and Stone forwards while ensuring the integrity of the brand is retained. He said: “The quality of Barrel and Stone’s products and the relevance of the model in the current climate, is an exciting opportunity and I am looking forward to building on the success the company has had to date. With more than 350 sites under contract, a strong pipeline and ambitious plans for the new year, our directive is to focus on quality products, brand integrity and growth.” Managing director Russell Hardiman added: “During lockdown, many of our customers continued to trade profitably utilising click and collect and delivery. Our partnership with Sessions, set up by ex-Deliveroo managing director Dan Warne, means we can offer a complete and effective delivery model for the UK hospitality industry. With new food concept launches coming in the second quarter, we see teaming up with Sessions as an added benefit to our customers, enabling them to develop clear delivery strategies with an experienced team.”

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