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Wed 10th Nov 2021 - Update: JD Wetherspoon, Pret, Welsh covid passport extension, Market Taverns et al
JD Wetherspoon reports like-for-like sales recover to 91% of 2019 levels: JD Wetherspoon has reported like-for-like sales for the 15 weeks to 7 November 2021 were 8.9% lower than the record sales achieved in the same period in 2019. Bar sales were down 9.6%, food was down 8.1%, fruit/slot machines were down 12.3% and hotels were up 11.5%. Wetherspoon stated: “This is an improvement compared with sales of minus 17.8% in the last ten weeks of the previous financial year (ten weeks to 25 July 2021), when pubs reopened inside – although restrictions applied for most of that trading period. In the last 15 weeks, there has been a considerable increase in sales of the range of drinks often consumed by younger customers, for example cocktails (up 45%), vodka (up 17%) and rum (up 26%). In contrast, draught products, more often consumed by older customers, have been under pressure, with traditional ales down by 30% and stout down by 20%, for example. Food volumes appear to have been affected by some customers working from home, with breakfasts, for example, down by 22% and coffee down by 30%. The company's pubs which trade under the 'Lloyds' banner, with music, mostly at the weekends, were up 0.5%, probably reflecting a higher percentage of younger customers. Contrary to some forecasts (including our own), trade has been positive in the centre of many, but not all, larger cities and towns – and negative in the suburbs. For example, sales have been positive in in central Liverpool (up 9.1%), Newcastle Upon Tyne (up 11.1%), Oxford (up 11.3%), Chester (up 4.3%), Bournemouth (up 4.2%), Nottingham (up 3.6%), Cardiff (up 3.5%) and Manchester (up 0.4%). In contrast, trade has been lower in central London (down 17.4%). As expected, trade has been lower in airports (down 38.8%), stations (down 22.4%), and also in Scotland (down 12.2%) and Northern Ireland (down 11.0%), where some restrictions still apply. Supply chain issues in pubs have been extensively debated in recent months. Wetherspoon has had some problems from time to time, but they have usually related to a minority of items, for which we have almost always been able to find alternatives. Overall stocking levels of bar and food products have been in line with previous years. The problems have eased in recent weeks, albeit that the busy Christmas period is yet to come. Recruitment problems have also been widely reported in respect of both the hospitality industry and the wider economy. Wetherspoon had some isolated difficulties in staycation areas in the summer and during the ‘pingdemic’ but, in general, there has been a reasonable level of job applications. The number of employees has increased from 36,987 when pubs reopened in April 2021 to 42,240 today.” Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “With no music in Wetherspoon pubs (apart from 46 trading as Lloyds), a material proportion of our trade comes from older customers, some of whom have visited pubs less frequently in recent times. As outlined in our annual report, published in October 2021, there have been no outbreaks of covid-19, as defined by the health authorities, among customers in Wetherspoon pubs. However, some customers have been understandably cautious. Improvement in trade will therefore depend, to some extent, on the outlook for the covid-19 virus. Whereas we have an increased element of caution about near-term sales, ‘booster’ vaccinations and better weather in the spring are likely to have a positive impact in the coming months. The last 18 months have presented a considerable challenge to the hospitality industry, with many unexpected twists and turns. As in previous downturns, the company will continue to concentrate on providing high standards of service, reasonable prices and regular, small upgrades to the business.”

Host of hotel operators being added to updated Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book: A host of hotel operators are being added to the updated Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book. A total of 31 companies are being added to the updated Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, taking the combined number to 456 companies, which produce total turnover of £30.2bn. Of those companies 191 are reporting a profit and 265 are making a loss. Among the new additions are: Imperial London Hotel Group, which turned over £75m in its most recent financial year, The Berkeley Hotel, which turned over £52.6m, and Place Hotels, which had turnover of £11.6m. The next edition of the Blue Book will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (12 November) at midday. The Blue Book, which is updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Premium subscribers also receive two other databases – the New Openings Database, produced in association with StarStock, and the Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, which are also updated each month. 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; 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

Pret sales in London outstrip Paris as bankers return to the office: Bankers in London are returning to the office at a rate that has outstripped counterparts in Paris and New York, figures suggest. The Telegraph reported spending at Pret A Manager’s stores in the City of London and Canary Wharf surged to 86% of pre-pandemic levels last week, the highest since the start of the crisis, Bloomberg’s “Pret Index” revealed. Transaction volumes at Pret A Manger’s stores in London’s financial districts are now exceeding those in Paris and New York as more people in the city return to their daily lunch run. Pano Christou, chief executive of Pret, said: “We continue to see strong performance across the UK, especially in the City and in our domestic travel, where we’re cautiously optimistic about long-term growth as more and more people come back to the office and work travel picks up.” Christou said he expects demand in London to continue to rise if infection rates do not spiral. Sales are still lowest on Mondays and Fridays, he said, suggesting many people have shifted to more flexible working models. Pret’s sales at London airports are also expected to improve after the US lifted entry restrictions for the first time since March 2020. At the capital’s train stations, Pret’s sales hit a new pandemic high last week and are just a fraction below pre-covid levels. Meanwhile in downtown New York, where Wall Street is located, the sandwich chain struggled to grow beyond the halfway-back mark as ingredient shortages left some of its fridges “devoid of popular items”. Transaction volumes in Paris have also dipped to 71% of pre-pandemic levels, although the drop in footfall is likely due to a national holiday last week.

Use of covid passports in Wales to extend to cinemas and theatres: People in Wales will have to show a covid pass to enter cinemas, theatres and concert halls. Since 11 October, people have had to show they are fully vaccinated or have tested negative for covid-19 to enter nightclubs and similar venues. From Monday (15 November), the pass will also be needed to enter cinemas, theatres and concert halls after members of the Welsh parliament approved the extension. The minister for health and social services, Eluned Morgan, said: “The NHS covid pass is one measure among many to help to keep businesses open while also helping to control the spread of the virus. The decision to introduce them has not been taken lightly and the venues that will be covered are indoors and see large numbers of people being closely together for prolonged periods of time. Since 11 October, people have been required to show an NHS covid pass or recent negative lateral flow test result to enter nightclubs, similar venues and events and the service is working well. We have received positive feedback from a range of businesses and organisers of major events, including following the recent rugby internationals. We will continue to work with the sectors who are implementing the scheme to best support them.”

Market Taverns appoints CEO: Market Taverns, a privately owned pub company operating pubs in central London, has promoted Richard Peachment to chief executive. Peachment joined Market Taverns in September 2018 as chief operations officer having previously been operations director at Draft House and held senior positions at JD Wetherspoon and Fridays. Market Taverns chairman Steve Welsh said: “Richard’s skills and abilities have been invaluable over the last few years and key to the expansion of the business from eight to currently 14 sites and steering the company through a very difficult covid trading period. We believe in this new wider role Richard will lead the company through the challenges that lie ahead, as we look to invest in our sites and our people, exploit the marketplace and continue to build on our success.”

Ingredient costs push up price of food: Food prices have risen by 2.1% over the past four weeks, driven higher by the rising cost of ingredients and supply chain pressures, reports The Times. Despite recent comments by bosses at Tesco and Sainsbury’s that they were holding firm on food prices, figures from Kantar, the research group, show grocery inflation has hit its highest rate since August last year, when supermarkets stripped out promotions to maintain supply. Cash-conscious shoppers are beginning to shop around, visiting an average of 3.3 supermarkets a month to find the best value for money. Wheat prices have risen by almost 40% in the past year while the costs of palm oil, olive oil and sugar are rising sharply. Analysts reckon Tesco will be best placed to weather the inflationary pressures because of its huge buying power. According to Kantar, it was the only supermarket to record year-on-year sales rises over the past four weeks. Tesco sales increased by 0.3% over the longer 12-week period to 31 October, while Sainsbury’s recorded a 2.8% slip, Asda sales fell by 2.3% and Morrisons suffered a 4.3% fall. Ocado sales fell by 2.1% during the period. Meanwhile, Lidl sales were flat and Aldi suffered a smaller fall of 0.4%.

UK plans to scale back corporate governance reforms after business backlash: The UK’s reform package to overhaul corporate governance and auditing will be “scaled back” following pushback by businesses. Officials working on the plans, which are being finalised, are expected to water down some of the proposals, the Financial Times reported. The reform package, which has been touted as the biggest overhaul to British audits and corporate governance in generations, follows a series of high-profile corporate scandals and collapses including retailer BHS and Carillion. Changes to the proposals to make them more “business friendly” come after uproar by businesses over the costs of the new proposed rules. The additional costs, executives have argued, will make it harder to keep existing businesses in the UK, and to attract new ones, as the economy recovers from both the pandemic and the effects of Brexit. The reforms include a tightening of internal company controls by mandating an annual statement reviewing their effectiveness, to be made by directors. One proposal pegged to be dropped is that based on the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which uses legislation to force directors to sign off on businesses’ internal controls for financial reporting. Earlier this year it was reported the new reforms could see directors facing fines, suspensions or even having to return their bonuses in the event of a company collapse or serious director failings. But now a limited version of the rule, which would also be harder to enforce, is expected instead. Without legislation binding them, directors will be let off the hook from taking more responsibility for company accounts. The pared-back version of the rule would also only apply to companies with a premium listing, leaving privately-owned firms free to ignore the guidance. The UK business department said no decisions have been taken and the reforms have yet to be signed off by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

Bristol’s clubs and bars to take part in trial of spiked drink testing: Police in Bristol will run a trial of new kits to test whether drinks have been spiked in nightclubs funded by part of a £5m Home Office fund to help improve women’s safety. The Times reports Bristol City Council has been given £282,000 for the introduction of kits to detect drink spiking at 60 different night-time venues across the city. It is part of a Safety of Women at Night Fund that was established by the Home Office after the murder in March of Sarah Everard. Other projects include a train and bus safety campaign to be run by West Yorkshire police that will enable women to track buses in live time so they can avoid waiting alone at bus stops at night. The extra funding comes amid a surge in reports of spiked drinks since coronavirus restrictions were lifted in the summer. Since September, there have been 198 reports made to police as well as 56 reports of incidents involving a needle, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council. In the period from 2015 to 2019 there were 2,600 recorded cases of drink spiking. Home secretary Priti Patel ordered an inquiry last month into how widespread the phenomenon of needle spiking was after a spate of widely publicised attacks. Almost 200,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to introduce new laws that would oblige all nightclubs to search guests on entry.

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