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Wed 29th Sep 2021 - Government launches ‘Avengers Assemble’ hospitality council
Government launches ‘Avengers Assemble’ hospitality council: The government has formed a new hospitality council to help guide the recovery of the sector after the heavy toll of the pandemic. Business minister Paul Scully has announced the members of the group, comprising industry leaders including the bosses of Nando’s, Greene King and Starbucks. It comes as hospitality firms continue to be hampered by footfall below pre-pandemic levels and the financial impact of loans and using cash reserves to survive the pandemic. The 22-member Hospitality Sector Council will oversee actions related to the 22 commitments which form the hospitality strategy launched by the government earlier in the year. The council is co-chaired by Scully and hospitality entrepreneur and chairwoman of Prezzo Karen Jones, and will hold its first meeting today (Wednesday). Scully said: “The hospitality industry has shown incredible creativity and resourcefulness through the pandemic, pivoting to new ways of doing business, like al fresco dining and takeaway pints, to stay safe, meet changing consumer demands and protect livelihoods. With the launch of this council, we’re taking the next step in the journey to build back better from the pandemic by unveiling the experts who’ll be driving the reopening, recovery and resilience of the sector.” Jones said: “I think the lockdowns have shown us many things, particularly the importance of our people and our teams and the key role hospitality has to play in lighting up our high streets and city centres. We now need to capitalise on our combined energy, creativity and innovation to continue the creation of a world-class hospitality industry – the hospitality sector council will aid in making that a reality.” Scully called the launch of the new council “a real ‘Avengers Assemble’ moment for the industry.” “We’re taking the next step in the journey to build back better from the pandemic by unveiling the experts who’ll be driving the reopening, recovery and resilience of the sector,” he added. But Layla Moran MP, who is backing calls for a covid recovery visa, said: “Businesses in my constituency are at risk. Instead of helping them, the Conservatives are ignoring the urgency of the problem. Of course we need to encourage more young Brits to enter hospitality and give them the skills to enter the sector in the future, as the government’s strategy outlines, but Boris Johnson needs to help my constituents and the sector recruit the staff they need right now if they’re going to survive.”

Two days to go before release of updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, 73 companies being added: A total of 73 new multi-site companies, operating 417 sites, have been added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-site Companies, which will be released on Friday (1 October), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, includes international growth concepts making their UK debut, expanding vegan brands, regional coffee operators and a number of brands growing through franchise. Premium subscribers will also receive a 6,200-word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. Alongside this, Premium subscribers will also receive the third edition of the New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Wednesday, 6 October, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. Premium subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out plus regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com.

Peach makes small profit in “remarkable year”; takes on new Surrey pub: Gastropub operator Peach made a small profit in 2020, in what the 19-strong company called a “remarkable year for the business and the hospitality industry as a whole”. Co-founder and managing director Hamish Stoddart told Propel: “In 2020 we managed to make a profit of £167k on a reduced turnover of £15.9m, as well as getting out of debt with a sale and leaseback deal on the leaseholds of four pubs, which delivered a profit of £1m. Peach did the right thing in the pandemic, making sure all suppliers were paid in full and on time and protecting the whole of the team, and with the support of HSBC, who frankly were outstanding, negotiated with and paid all landlords plus the government. We had a great restart and summer and, like many gastropub businesses particularly in the south east and Home Counties, Peach has been ideally positioned to take advantage of people working at home and enjoying outside dining and holidays in the UK. The team was amazing and, as someone very wise once said, never waste a crisis. We didn’t.” At the same time, the business has secured the lease of The Drummond at Albury from the Albury estate, near Guildford. Peach said it would develop this “beautiful Surrey pub in the next six months to become a fantastic gastropub and boutique hotel”. It said that the search also continues for new pubs, with Peach looking to add three more in the next 12 months using cash it holds for acquisitions. In the last week, Peach has launched its target to reach a certified net zero by 2023.

Fulham Shore to repay £9.3m CBILs loan amid buoyant trading: Franca Manco operator Fulham Shore has reported sales increased to over £39m in the period since 29 March compared to £36m achieved during the comparable period in 2019 despite being able to serve dine in customers for only ten out of the 26 weeks of the period. The company stated: “This growth was driven by the eight new restaurants opened since September 2019, the continued increase in dine in customers since lockdown fully ended on 19 July 2021, and a strong performance across Franco Manca delivery. This performance was enhanced by strong suburban trading in addition to the typical summer season. Revenues from delivery remained at this higher level after restrictions were lifted on dining in, implying that the group’s delivery customers have continued to choose our quality food and value pricing. The Franco Manca brand continued to resonate well with customers during the period, reflected by the ongoing growth in popularity of the Franco Manca loyalty app, which has now been downloaded and used by over 255,000 customers. The Real Greek enjoyed a fantastic summer serving record numbers of customers, with particularly good performances across sites located outside of London which feature large covered terraces. Bookings continue to be buoyant into the autumn. The period post lockdown restrictions being lifted, on 19 July 2021, saw a number of the group’s restaurants around the UK breaking trading records on a regular basis. Group revenues for the three full weeks to 26 September 2021 averaged 33% ahead of the same period in 2019, an improvement on the 27% reported in our previous trading statement achieved during the three weeks to 5 September 2021. During this time, cost of sales and labour margins continued to remain stable despite inflationary pressures. During the period, the group’s 17 West End of London and city centre office locations remained behind 2019 figures but demonstrated gradual recovery: in the three weeks to the period end revenues improved to only –3% behind the same three weeks in 2019. Over the next 12 months we expect footfall in these office-centric sites to increase and to therefore return to trading in line with the group’s average performance. Tourists from abroad have yet to return in any meaningful way, but when they do this should provide further impetus to these city centre and the West End of London restaurants. With strong revenue growth in our first half to September 2021 compared to six months to September 2019, Fulham Shore is trading ahead of management’s expectations. This augurs well for the full year performance and our UK wide expansion plans. So far, during the group’s current financial year ending March 2022, we have opened two Franco Manca and, most recently, the 20th The Real Greek in Norwich. This takes the total number of restaurants operated by the group to 75. Fitting out works are ongoing on two new Franco Manca pizzeria, in Blackheath Village (opening in October 2021) and on Baker Street (opening in November 2021) in London. The Real Greek has exchanged contracts for a new restaurant in Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent and expects to commence fitting out works imminently. 16 more potential sites are in solicitors’ hands for both Franco Manca and The Real Greek. While there is a small increase in margin with the new facility, the group intends to repay its £9.3m UK government backed CLBIL facility that supported the business during the height of lockdown uncertainty. The revised RCF and renewed overdraft combined with the current net cash position of £5.0m will give the group financial headroom of £22.75m.”

Comptoir – trading has continued to improve week to week: Comptoir Group, the owner and operator of Lebanese and eastern Mediterranean restaurants, has said that trading across its 21-strong business has continued to “improve week to week”, with all of its site making a “positive contribution at the profit level” since reopening. The company stated: “Once again, the first half of this financial year was hugely disrupted by the restrictions placed on the sector by the government due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. Since reopening, the trading performance has been very strong with the group comfortably outperforming forecasts. However, we have some exceptional challenges to face in the next trading period as we navigate the upcoming short-term issues. These include the end of the government support such as the furlough scheme, rates holiday, normalisation of VAT as well as the availability of labour and the inflationary pressures on the supply chain. The labour and inflationary pressures will continue through 2021 and into 2022 with the National Living Wage (NLW), as well as the recently announced 1.25% increase in Employers NI (both April 2022) only exacerbating this. However, we fully expect to navigate these issues successfully as we always have done. These issues won’t be solved without strong relationships with our key stakeholders and at this point I would like to thank all our suppliers and landlords who we have worked so closely with over the last 18 months. Their support has been paramount, and with all concessions agreed we look to expand on these relationships in the future.” The business said that conversely, “it must also be noted that there is an opportunity for Comptoir to add to its site pipeline with the reduction in competition for premium sites”. It said: “This coupled with our excellent relationships with our current landlords allows us to some extent pick and choose where we may wish to increase our estate where we feel there is value in doing so. Accordingly, we intend to invest in not only Comptoir Libanais but also expand our QSR Shawa brand. This strategy has already commenced with the opening of our latest Shawa in Westfield Shepherds Bush in September.” As a consequence of the lockdown periods, the revenue for the total group for the half year was £5.7m (H1 2020: £6.1m). However, the business reported an adjusted Ebitda profit of £1.6m (H1 2020: £0.5m) driven by the government assistance received but also through exceptional cost control across the business. Since reopening in April, the group has reported positive Ebitda every period at a level ahead of expectations. It said it envisaged exiting two more leases over the next 12 months, as it continues to discuss with its landlords and assess the trading conditions. Chaker Hanna, chief executive, said: “Whilst there is the argument for pent up demand post lockdown, we have found trading has continued to improve week to week and the overall outperformance of the group is hugely encouraging and gives the board every confidence in the prospects for the remainder of the year and into 2022. We have seen solid performance in our London sites, which naturally remain impacted by the lower number of office workers and tourists. The regional sites have outperformed pre-pandemic 2019 levels and we have seen record levels of trading in a selection of sites. Importantly, all 21 sites are making a positive contribution at the profit level since reopening, highlighting the quality of the existing estate. The group has an excellent base to continue to operate from as we return to normality, and the future looks to be one of growth and success.”

SSP Group report revenue 53% of 2019 levels in most recent week: Transport hub foodservice company SSP Group is benefitting from increased passenger numbers across the travel sector. In the third quarter revenue improved to 27% of 2019 levels and in the fourth quarter is expected to be c. 47%, resulting in second half revenue of c. 37% of 2019 levels. In the latest week, revenue was approximately 53% of 2019 levels. The company stated: “As anticipated, domestic travel, which accounts for approximately 60% of group revenue, and leisure travel, also approximately 60%, is recovering more rapidly than international and business travel. The recovery in the fourth quarter has enabled the group to re-open c. 60% of its outlets, up from c. 30% at the end of the first half of 2021, and it continues to open its outlets selectively and in line with the recovery in passenger numbers. Geographically, the stronger trading has been led by Continental Europe and North America. In Continental Europe revenue in the fourth quarter is expected to be c. 53% of 2019 levels driven by the ongoing recovery in rail passenger numbers and increased air passenger numbers over the summer holiday season. In North America, revenue in the fourth quarter is expected to be c. 52% of 2019 levels reflecting the ongoing recovery in domestic air travel. In the UK, sales have continued to strengthen following the easing of lockdown restrictions in July, led by the rail sector, and are expected to be c. 43% of 2019 levels in the fourth quarter. In the Rest of the World, where the vaccine roll-out has generally been slower, sales continue to be impacted by lockdowns in some markets, including Australia and Thailand, and in the fourth quarter are expected to be c. 29% of 2019 levels. The group is expected to deliver positive Ebitda in the final quarter and broadly break-even Ebitda for the second half of the year (on an underlying, pre-IFRS 16 basis). The second-half performance reflects the disciplined management of the re-opening programme, a simplified operating model with a lower and a more variable cost base, including reduced or waived minimum guaranteed rents, and lower overheads. In addition, the group has been successful in accessing further, significant, short-term government support in a number of countries in Continental Europe, reflecting the continued impact of the pandemic on the travel sector. In the second half of the year, the group is expected to generate net free cash flow of c. £60m – £80m, principally due to a strong working capital performance, driven by the recovery in sales during the half, as well as securing further payment deferrals. At 30th September, available liquidity is expected to be slightly above £900m (including the proceeds of the April Rights Issue and the £300m loan from the CCFF, which is expected to be repaid in February 2022). The stronger trading and cash flow performance in the second half of the 2021 financial year is encouraging and the medium-term outlook of a return to pre-covid levels of like-for-like revenue and Ebitda margins by 2024 (as set out in the Base Case scenario in the April 2021 Rights Issue) remains unchanged. However, the pace of the recovery remains uncertain, and as a consequence, our current planning assumption is for a slightly slower recovery in sales during the 2022 financial year.”

Confidence falls among households: Britons are feeling more downbeat about their financial outlook for the coming year, although there is optimism among younger people as wages and job security improve, according to Scottish Widows. The Times reports that the life insurance and pension provider’s regular household finances index has recorded its first fall since the second quarter of last year. The index, made up of a monthly survey of 1,500 people aged between 18 to 64, produced a measure of 49.2 during the third quarter of 2021, a decrease from 50.3 in the previous three months. An index rating of below 50 indicates that a balance of households feels less confident in their financial outlook, while one above 50 suggests that a majority expect an improvement in their finances over the coming year. In spite of households generally recording a more pessimistic outlook, the youngest age group surveyed, those aged 18 to 34, was more upbeat, recording an index rating of 56.2. The research showed this was linked to employment, with incomes in the 18 to 34 cohort rising the most. The group also showed the strongest sentiment towards job security, with those aged 18 to 24 bucking the overall trend. The 18 to 34 grouping reported the slowest decline in cash availability, helping to produce a more positive financial outlook for the coming year.

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